Students at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester are getting lessons on the value of college from some competitive neighbors who happen to be closely involved with the subject.

Student athletes on the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) women’s basketball and tennis teams have been visiting with seventh-graders within their own community to pass on knowledge of the college life and values from the athletic field.

Through a new pilot program of the LMU Family of Schools called “Student Athletes-College Connection,” the female collegiate competitors are working to build connections with youngsters at neighboring Orville Wright. The program is aimed at fostering a “college-going culture” for the middle school students, according to Family of Schools, which partners with Westchester schools in the transition to a new governance structure.

Maggie Bove-LaMonica, assistant director of the Family of Schools, said the schools working with LMU in the transition each provide a needs assessment for their goals at the start of the year, and she noted that Orville Wright expressed an interest in expanding its college readiness. This, along with LMU looking at ways to further its mission of being a good neighbor, led to the implementation of the College Connection program in the community, she said.

“Our athletic teams really wanted to do some mentoring in the community, and Orville Wright specifically talked about college readiness,” Bove-LaMonica explained.

“It seemed like having a mentoring relationship under the umbrella of college readiness would work best.”

The Family of Schools determined that the seventh grade would be the ideal time to begin encouraging students to have higher education ambitions and discussing ways to succeed in college.

The LMU women’s basketball team, under the leadership of Coach Julie Wilhoit, previously participated in a similar program in an outside community and chose to take part in the Westchester initiative this past fall, along with the women’s tennis squad. The program is expected to expand in the spring to include the men’s tennis and baseball teams, Bove-LaMonica said.

Once a month during the year-long program, the teams each meet with one class for one period as part of the health class curriculum, focusing on topics and activities related to college readiness. Each of the “mentoring sessions” addresses a different theme and the collegiate athletes discuss various issues with the middle-schoolers such as goal setting, how to prepare for the next level and what it takes to be successful.

“It’s based off of building a healthy mentoring relationship. We want both sides to have a positive relationship,” Bove-LaMonica said.

Women’s tennis head coach Jamie Sanchez said he was very supportive of the unique opportunity to enable his players to develop mentoring relationships with community youth.

“We kind of jumped on board and wanted to do that kind of thing,” Sanchez said of the initiative. “I thought it would be great for some of the players to connect with some of the kids in the area. That connection goes both ways.”

The relationships formed and the lessons learned through the program will help provide an “important piece” to the students’ development as part of their education, the coach said.

While the middle school students can receive tips firsthand from students in their community who are currently in college, the athletes can also learn that efforts such as this transcend sport.

“I think it’s a great program because it gives an opportunity for the youth to talk about their aspirations to go to college, and for the athletes, it grounds them that there’s more than just the sport itself.”

Orville Wright Principal James Stapleton did not return calls from The Argonaut seeking comment on the College Connection benefits at the school.

Bove-LaMonica said the LMU athletes can serve as models to the middle-schoolers that it takes hard work to succeed at the college level.

The program can also allow the students to fulfill a role beyond collegiate athlete, while influencing the Orville Wright youths to envision themselves in a college environment, she said.

“We really want our students to understand that they could be good neighbors right here at LMU. It’s about the students being their whole person,” she said.

At the conclusion of the program, a “mock graduation” will be held where the youngsters will have a chance to tour the LMU campus with their mentors.