One of the first cohorts of Say Yes Scholars in a four-year degree program at Syracuse University, Paola Benevento, is passionate for the city of Syracuse. She was active in the community and taught at a summer camp for Say Yes to Education from 2010-12. Graduating anthropology and writing and rhetoric major with a minor in African American Studies in summer 2013, Benevento was planning to attend Teachers College at Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in elementary and inclusive education.
When Paola Benevento was 4 years old and in an inclusive preschool program, an autistic boy hit her over the head. She reacted calmly, which surprised her mother.
“He just hit her in the head with his head, not for any reason, that’s just part of his disability, and she was quite OK with it, which was a shock. Most students would retaliate somewhat, but she was very good with that,” said Ann Marie Benevento, Paola Benevento’s mother and teacher at Henninger High School in Syracuse for grades 9-12 who works with special needs children.
The key, Paola Benevento said, is to connect with children emotionally or through a common interest.
While teaching at a summer camp for Say Yes to Education from 2010-12, she capitalized on the knowledge the kids had of sports stars to emphasize the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle.
But understanding where the students are coming from helps — some children act as caretakers for their siblings, for example.
Born and raised in Syracuse, Benevento grew up in the Eastwood neighborhood and attended Henninger. She has two older brothers, ages 31 and 29, and one older sister, who is 36.
A senior anthropology and writing and rhetoric major with a minor in African American Studies, Benevento was accepted to Syracuse University as a Say Yes Scholar, and is a part of the first cohort of Say Yes Scholars in a four-year degree program.
She will be attending Teachers College at Columbia University to pursue her master’s degree in elementary and inclusive education for grades one to six.
Benevento said her passion for teaching started right at home with her mother.
Her mother was impressed by how Benevento ran a group circle for her first-grade class when she was only 13 years old.
Benevento now uses what she learns in the classroom to better connect with children. Her studies in writing and rhetoric, for example, taught her how to get an audience to connect with her message.
“Your audience, then, is your students,” she said. “If you’re trying to get them to learn something, you have to put it in a sense that they’re going to connect to.”
Benevento’s family and friends noted her dedication toward and passion for achieving the goals she sets for herself.
Outside of her studies, Benevento is a member of the women’s rowing team and enjoys rhythm and blues and hip-hop music, said Emily Moomey, a senior English and textual studies major, Benevento’s roommate and teammate on the rowing team.
It’s Benevento’s ability to balance multiple tasks that impresses people, said Andrea Buch, assistant coach for the women’s rowing team.
“She spearheads community service for the team, in addition to performing well in the classroom and holding down a job,” Buch said.
Benevento continues to come to practice and help out despite a back injury last fall.
That includes waiting in the boathouse before 6 a.m. until there is something for her to do, or setting up times to meet with younger rowers if they need help with anything, Buch said.
Being a member of the rowing team is a huge time commitment, but an experience she would not trade for anything, Benevento said.
“The moment at the start of a race, that’s what I look forward to all winter,” she said. “That’s my adrenaline rush right there.”
Justin Moore, head coach of the women’s rowing team, said he is impressed by Benevento’s commitment to the team.
“I think part of it is growing up local and hearing about Syracuse athletics, and part of it is her saying, ‘I’m going to contribute to this team however I can,’” Moore said.
Benevento’s passion for the city of Syracuse kicked off when she was assigned to work with residents of the Southside for her research and social movements class to hear their thoughts on bringing a grocery store to the area.
She said she perceives a disconnect between SU and the city, noting the lack of interaction students have with the different neighborhoods and the crime-ridden stereotypes they assign to some areas.
Said Benevento: “There were a lot more issues in my city that I wanted to fix.”