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Freshmen Devote Early Mornings to Tutoring in Harlem

Freshmen Ariana Castillo, from Bayonne, NJ, and Jessica McFadzean, from Queens, both Forensic Psychology majors, wake up at 6 a.m. three days a week and travel to 127th Street in West Harlem. They spend four hours each session at Public School 154 tutoring fifth-grade elementary students in math and English.

The mutual goal of Castillo and McFadzean, who met during their first semester at John Jay last fall, is to become psychologists and to work in prisons. Their inspiration for tutoring children before school originated with a suggestion from Chairperson and Associate Professor Carlton Jama Adams in the Department of Africana Studies who teaches their Ethnic Studies class this spring. He proposed to them that if they wanted to eventually work within the forensic psychology field the best foundation was to study the arc that spans from normal behavior to criminal and pathological behavior. He suggested working with at-risk children first, then progressing to troubled teens, and then troubled adults.

“If we could help these kids, if we show them that someone cares now, then it will be a domino effect. They’ll do better and then they will want to help someone else do better,” said Castillo.

Both students said that Professor Adams encourages them to think critically like forensic psychologists and that they need to acknowledge and listen to the students they mentor.

Mcfadzean chose Forensic Psychology because it was a perfect combination of her two loves: science and psychology. Castillo originally wanted to be a firefighter and was interested in John Jay because of its Fire Science program. However, after her mother dissuaded her she turned to other academic areas that intrigued her—criminology and psychology.

“We always try to give our students the benefit of the doubt,” said Castillo, “because so many people in their lives just doubt them. In some ways, society and the system has let them down so much that no one is pushing them for a better future. So we do it. We push them. And some of them really do thrive.”

McFadzean and Castillo have also devoted their time to help launch Prisoner Reentry Education and Peer-Support (PREP), a new student club that will focus on helping former offenders make the transition back to their communities.