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Role Model Mentors built on kids teaching kids, in school and beyond

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High school students Ally Livingston, left, and Phoebe Inall are part of a growing Ridgefield tutoring business, Role Model Mentors.

With school in full swing, some students — or at least their parents — are already assessing the need for additional help in navigating new teachers and classes.

While tutors will always be an option, a new concept — matching students with older high schoolers to provide support not just academically but also in extracurricular activities — is gaining momentum for Role Model Mentors, according to its CEO Derek Correia.

“It’s really an example of the ‘takes a village to raise a child’ approach,” he said of the for-profit enterprise formed in 2015 by Ridgefield residents Tim and Kristin Boylan. “By employing local, talented high school students, who are an underdeveloped asset in the workforce as mentors, it usually puts the mentee at ease. Which,” he laughed, “is especially helpful at a time when young adolescents are starting to view their parents as complete idiots.”

Correia, who joined the Ridgefield-based company in 2016, said that such an approach has proven beneficial to both mentors and mentees.

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Derek Correia

“‘I can’t wait for Mrs. Johnson to come over at 6:30 to teach me math,’ said no kid ever,” he quipped. “By matching someone who’s struggling with math and also has an interest in, say, lacrosse with an older student who’s maybe had the same teacher and shares a passion for that same sport, we establish a relatability that you’re not necessarily going to get with a former teacher or one who’s moonlighting as a tutor.”

Such was the case with Phoebe Inall, who two years ago transferred to a new middle school, where she was struggling with math and French.

“We’d had a tutor in elementary school,” said her mother, Tracy Inall, “but we were looking for a different type of experience for her and thought that a high schooler might be more appealing.”

Ally Livingston, then a senior at Ridgefield High School, “was a great match,” the mother of three said. “They both played volleyball, so in addition to meeting at our home once a week to talk about her classes, they were able to share that interest as well.”

Results for her daughter were “pretty immediate,” Inall said. “She went from being a C student in French to an A. Ally had been through that program, knew the teachers and the study tips and tricks, what to focus on.”

“It also helped build Phoebe’s self-confidence,” Inall added. “Because her grades were going up, she felt a little more prepared and better about herself.”

When eighth grade rolled around for Phoebe and Livingston had graduated and moved on to college, the Inalls returned to Role Model Mentors and hooked up with Allie Cauchon. Another experienced French and math student, Cauchon was also a dancer, another interest of Phoebe’s.

Now a freshman at Ridgefield High, Phoebe “got so much out of it that she’s a Role Model Mentor herself now.” Not yet matched, she will be paired with an elementary school student who shares her interests, Inall said.

Another Role Models Mentor client, Oli Landsman, of Bedford in Westchester County, was not so much in need of academic help as she was an older friend who could help her navigate the wilds of her new middle school, said her mother, Evyan Metzner.

Caitlyn Ramage, a sophomore at Bedford’s Fox Lane High School, shared Oli’s interests in dance, art and music. “They’d meet at our home or at a nearby park, depending on the weather,” Metzner said. “They played games, did crafts, danced. They even ended up making a video montage of everything they’d done.”

The mentors effectively work as entrepreneurs, said Correia. “They’re responsible for setting up appointments — usually once a week, but sometimes twice or more, depending on schedules. We help train them in how to develop a curriculum and focus on those who do well in school and have a range of extracurricular interests.”

Correia said that much of Role Model’s marketing comes from word of mouth, as well as social media like Facebook and Instagram. The program’s affordability helps attract
parents.

“Tutors typically charge $75 to 100 an hour, or more. We charge $20 to 25 an hour” for sessions that usually run about one hour, he said.

The privately held company recently signed its 1,000th student and now serves more than 25 school districts throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties. It is also expanding into Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island and will soon offer its services in New Jersey, Correia said.

The company has more than 300 mentors signed up. “We try to stay ahead of demand,” Correia said.

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