The Big Sib Program

Essex Street Academy

About the Practice

The Big Sib program assigns every 9th grade boy to an 11th or 12th grade mentor, or Big Sib. Big Sibs are recruited through an application process, but starting next year, the 11th grade boys will all become Big Sibs, as they have participated in the program as Little Sibs.
This is our 2nd year running the program. We have partnered with Outward Bound, through which the Big Sibs participate in workshops that help build their leadership and collaboration skills. Then there are other activities throughout the year (several in-school meetings, workshop at Outward Bound Center, 3-day camping retreat) that the Big Sibs and Little Sibs participate in together to build relationships with each other. The Big Sibs are also responsible for checking in with their Little Sibs regularly via Facebook, text, or in person by going to lunch or Homework help together.
There are 2 teachers at our school and an Outward Bound staff member who work together to check in with the Big Sibs to make sure they are regularly meeting and contacting their Little Sibs. They also coordinate the events that happen throughout the year.
In the math department we have been experimenting with different ways to support our Black and Latino young men who struggle with math. To do this, we developed a new ICT partnership to work with the lower skilled 9th and 10th graders, which has a high percentage of black and Latino boys. The ICT partners have attended professional development and trainings through Metamorphosis and have spent many hours planning instruction and developing a curriculum that will support our students while also instilling the skill set necessary to move on to more advanced math.
Additionally, we have hired an ESA Alum to come into the classroom and provide one-on-one and small group support during the day and after school tutoring two days a week. The young men have really responded to the ESA Alum.

Connections to ESI and CRE Goals

Target Population/Total Students:

Currently, there are 45 9th grade boys and 30 Big Sib boys (11th or 12th grade); 75 students total.

9th and 10th grade low skilled math students; 45 Black and Latino young men.


  • Finding a common place for all of the boys to meet together. We don’t want to pull them out of class, and we don’t have the funds to provide lunch regularly for them to meet during lunch.
  • Contacting the Big Sibs can be very time-consuming. Not all check their emails regularly or have cell phones.
  • Same with contacting Little Sibs. It’s difficult to reach some parents to let them know about trips.

How did school overcome challenges?

  • Still an issue. Haven’t resolved entirely yet. We would ideally like once a month meetings but it’s difficult to make happen without constant reminders on the staff’s part.
  • We are planning on naming some of the Big Sibs as Leaders, who are responsible for a small pod of Big Sibs who they’re friends with. We’ll meet with the Big Sib leaders weekly, and they will be responsible for disseminating the information to the other Big Sibs in their crew.
  • Involving advisors and Big Sibs in reaching out to Little Sibs.

How will you continue to sustain this practice?

Big Sib: We still would like to run a mentoring program for boys, but it will be voluntary instead of mandatory. We will shift all the activities to being in-house and will use funds through our partnership with GVYC to pay for trips and leadership activities.

Math Support: The professional development that the ICT partners attended, and the hours of planning will be used every semester. We will continue to earmark funds for the ESA Alum support.