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'Big Sibs' pairs Princeton and elementary students in mentorship

As freshmen entered McCosh 50 on Thursday afternoon, they were greeted by seven young children representing the City Invincible Charter School in Camden, N.J. The children, smiling and chatting with the freshmen in attendance, wore orange shirts that said “Once a tiger, always a tiger” in bold font, with a cartoon tiger over the heart — a reference to the school’s mascot, also a tiger. More than 175 freshmen gathered for an information session on Big Sibs, the Class of 2016’s service project.

The program, organized by the Class of 2016’s Class Council in collaboration with the Pace Center, will allow Princeton students to act as older siblings — or “Big Sibs” — for students of the City Invincible Charter School. The project aims to foster a positive mentorship relationship between City Invincible students and Princeton students. 


Class council member Justin Ziegler ’16 opened the info session by asking the freshmen assembled if they had sent an email in the past day.

“For Princeton Big Sibs, that’s what we’re asking for: just one email per week. That is the minimum requirement, and that one email a week can make a significant difference in a young person’s life,” Ziegler said.

The presentation that followed included class council members Fiz Dhanani ’16, Gwen Lee ‘16, Molly Stoneman ’16 and Priya Krishnan ’16.

The council showed video footage of City Invincible students discussing the impact of mentorship in their lives. 

Marjorie Ann Young, director of a Pace Center initiative called Community House, said she had benefited from mentorship while she was a student and expressed her approval of Big Sibs. According to the Pace Center website, Community House seeks to “clos[e] the minority achievement gap.”

“I am here to tell you having people who really cared about me and who took the time to teach me English when I was a student really made a difference to me,” she said. “Do it well and be consistent.”


Afterward, administrators from the City Invincible Charter School were joined by seven students to discuss the importance of having a mentorship program for the K-5 students.

“We need you to be Big Sibs. That is exactly what we are looking for,” City Invincible Charter School Civic Engagement Leader Brianne Steakelum said. 

Steakelum introduced City Invincible Charter School students, who thanked the freshmen assembled by performing chants and cheers about mentorship and their school's mission statement.

According to Krishnan, the council has worked on the service project since its election in October.

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Ziegler initially pitched the project to the council and soon took the lead in contacting the Pace Center. There, he met Young, who suggested City Invincible Charter School.

A month ago, the council met with the representatives from the charter school to fine-tune the specifics of the program and conveyed enthusiasm for an opportunity to work with the kids.

“I think mentorship in itself is a great thing and to work with kids who are underprivileged is even better, and that we can make a huge difference in their lives,” Krishnan said. “All of us are excited to give it a class unity aspect as well, so it’s just a win-win situation.”

The class government has yet to post a schedule of events on its website, but Ziegler said the council hopes to host two Big Sibs events this semester. According to Ziegler, funding for the project came from a combination of funds from the class council, the Pace Center and the City Invincible Charter School. He added that half of the events will involve renting buses to take freshmen to Camden, and the rest will involve elementary school students visiting Princeton.

Kevin Lopez ’16, who sat in the audience during the information session, said he heard about the Big Sibs program through a class council email. He said he was drawn in by the similarities between Camden — where City Invincible Charter School is located — and Newark, his hometown.

“Giving back to the kids is one way I can give back to the community,” Lopez said. “I will definitely participate because I am really motivated to make a difference in their lives.”