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Bronx School Hires Psychic to Build Kids' Self-Esteem

By Eddie Small | January 12, 2015 7:24am
 Students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math held up question marks at Senehi's kickoff performance.
Students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math held up question marks at Senehi's kickoff performance.
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Gerard Senehi

CLAREMONT — A mentalist who has performed for President Bill Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres has found his next audience: a high school in the South Bronx.

Mentalist and mind reader Gerard Senehi recently partnered with the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics to offer classes meant to help students develop life skills like self-confidence and answer tough questions about themselves, such as "Do you have the courage to pursue what you really care about?" and "How much do you have a sense of direction and purpose in life?"

The program, called The QUESTion Project, kicked off with a Dec. 19 performance at the school where Senehi dazzled students with tricks like bending wine glasses, spinning spoons in other people's hands and making accurate predictions about the future.

Senehi is unpaid, and is volunteering his services as a mentalist to help the school and its students.

Edward Tom, the school's founding principal, said he was impressed by how well Senehi managed to keep the students' attention.

"That’s another amazing feat: to keep teenagers engaged for over two hours in an auditorium," he said.

However, the performance was more about helping students rethink what they were capable of than it was about entertaining them, according to Tom.

"The whole purpose wasn’t to give kids a magic show," he said. "It was to let them know the power of belief, that there are so many things that are possible."

Getting students to think this way is especially important at a school like the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, where many students come from single parent households, could be the first in their family to attend college, and rarely venture outside of the borough, said Tom.

"We just felt that there was this other side to teaching and learning that we really needed to look into and help our kids develop," he said, explaining the appeal of Senehi's program, "and that was a belief system that success is something that they should expect of themselves."

The school is offering three elective classes as part of The QUESTion Project that will run from February until the end of the school year.

The program will attempt to have students respond to questions like "How well do you know who you are?" through group discussions about topics such as what inspires them and what makes them afraid.

Students will also get the chance to design some of the classes themselves and have blog posts about what they are learning featured on The Huffington Post, according to Senehi.

“The idea is to build these deep human and life questions into the school culture,” he said.

This process already began after Senehi's December performance, when he had students ask themselves personal questions that officials then posted throughout the school to show that their concerns were not uncommon.

"So many kids were questioning will I be successful in the future, what does my future look like, am I really college ready," said Patricia Klarl, a counselor at the school. "It was great to see that they were not alone in that struggle."

The QUESTion Project is currently just for juniors and seniors, but the school plans on extending it to sophomores and freshmen as well.

The program launched at Florida State University in March, and by 2020, Senehi hopes to have it at 500 schools in the United States and abroad.

He was excited about what the project could do for students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math.

“We need to help them shape their direction in life," he said, "to have more of a foundation from which to decide what they’re going to do, how they’re going to deal with the choices they have, who they are."