Tutoring to change lives

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April 18, 2011

11:24 PM

The field trip to Harvard appeared to be a normal educational trip. The sixth graders explored the classrooms and admired the ancient statues, but when they were given a paper clip and told to exchange the paper clip for a gift from a college student, the spark within the students grew.

For children who hail from lower income households, the chance to interact with successful college students reminded them of the opportunities that MATCH, a public charter school in Boston, offered them. As a tutor at MATCH, formerly known as Media and Technology Charter High, alumna Barbara Luckett ’10 has seen the opportunities grow for the disadvantaged students.

One of Luckett’s students, a sixth grader at MATCH, was continuously shuffled through the school system even though he struggled with reading. With the help of instructors at MATCH school, the student finally found his voice.

“Just this past week, he volunteered to read something off the white board in front of his entire class, and although he needed help to sound out several words, he did it, and I was so proud of him,” Luckett said.

As a member of the MATCH Corps, Luckett spent a year in Boston tutoring inner-city students in a structured educational environment. The school, which opened in September 2000, admits around 440 students into the middle school and high school. The kids generally come from low-income households and have struggled with traditional public school education for years.

“Most of the students we serve come from low-income families, are black or Latino, have about a 1-in-20 chance of graduating from college, and enter MATCH significantly behind grade level,” Colin Bottles, director of recruiting for the MATCH school, said. “Each tutor’s job is nothing less than to change the arc of his or her students’ lives.”

The program is similar to Teach for America in that recent college graduates apply for positions to teach disadvantaged youth. Unlike Teach for America, however, MATCH school pairs up tutors with only six or seven students so that trusting relationships can form between teachers and tutors.

“Some [college graduates] are considering other urban education programs, but ultimately choose MATCH because they’re attracted to our ‘depth over breadth’ approach, in which tutors work very closely with a few students rather than try to manage a class of 20-30 kids,” Bottles said.

Luckett wasn’t immediately sold on joining teaching programs after college.

“I didn’t really even consider applying until winter of my senior year, after I had been tutoring a local eighth grade student in pre-algebra for a few months,” Luckett said. “While that experience was easily one of the most frustrating parts of my week, it was also the most rewarding, and it made me realize how easy it is for a student to slip through the cracks in our public education system.”

During the finals week of her senior year, Luckett traveled to Boston for an interview with program coordinators. As a result of that trip, Luckett, like her fellow tutors from colleges such as Wake Forest University, Harvard College, Boston College and Cornell University, has dedicated one year to the 440 students in grades six through 12.

For recent college graduates like Luckett, teaching programs offer an alternative to the traditional post-college job search while still focusing on their values.

“William and Mary students are very service-oriented and interested in making a difference to those around them,” Holly Meyers, assistant director and liason to the School of Education at the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center, said. “The teaching programs appeal to students because they provide opportunities to make a positive impact in others’ lives. Organizations that focus on closing the achievement gap and improving the lives of youth fit in to William and Mary students’ values.”

Although teaching programs like MATCH and Teach for America offer a different path after graduation, they still allow graduates to pursue their ultimate career goals.

“The programs require anywhere from one-to-four-year commitments, so for students interested in pursuing other opportunities such as graduate school, the time commitment is reasonable and allows them to pursue this passion as well as other goals down the road,” Meyers said.

The tutors volunteer at the school for a year and live in housing located right above the classrooms. Members of the MATCH Corps immerse themselves in the experience of teaching.

For Luckett, the 6:30 a.m. arrival time signals the beginning of a school day with both dedicated adults and deserving students. With tasks ranging from breakfast duty to sixth and seventh grade tutorials, Luckett spends her mornings directly interacting with all of the students she serves. She tutors two sixth graders and two seventh graders individually during the day, but also interacts with many other students.

The strength of the connection between tutors and students is most evident in the evening, when Luckett fills out forms about the day and takes time to call each of the students and their parents.

After dropping its original acronyms, MATCH has adopted other personal acronyms, including Many Adults that Care Here, My Approach to College Happiness and even Mentoring and Tutoring Charter High. The personal acronyms reflect the close relationship that forms between the tutors and the community of parents and students.

“‘Many Adults That Care Here’ is definitely the acronym that stands out to me,” Luckett said. “Even with the long day, the strict structure, the heavy workload and the demerits, there’s a lot of love at this school. Each and every tutor cares so much about their kids — and we call them our ‘kids.’ The kids are at such an impressionable age where they really look up to us, want to hang out with us, and make us proud.”

While the tutors generally dedicate 60 hours per week to the students and school, for Luckett, the reward of the long hours lies in the individual experiences, such as the sixth grade student who, for the first time, had the confidence to stand up in front of his class and read off the board.

“This school is going to permanently change his life trajectory and being part of that is just an amazing experience,” Luckett said.

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