An interview by Briana Carter
I sat down with staff members and volunteers of KidSmart, our after-school tutoring program, to discuss their journey, the growth of KidSmart, and the unspoken truths about working with urban students.
What is your role in KidSmart?
Diana: As the manager of KidSmart I create an open relationship with teachers. And, you could say I’m the “middle man,” like the liaison between teachers and parents.
Ed: I’m a ‘room leader.’ I tutor 3rd and 4th grade students.
Waniya: I’m a tutor that helps with every subject, but specifically I tutor twelve 3rd -5th graders in math facts, reading, writing and spelling.
Ada: I help in Waniya’s classroom; I do homework help and one-on-one reading with 3rd-5th graders.
When you first started interning with KidSmart, what made you nervous?
Ed: I don’t have children of my own so I was nervous about discipline. I wasn’t sure what I should or should not say. I think not knowing how I would respond to the students’ behaviors was huge in the beginning. Funny, it sometimes still is, but I have Diana - she’s a huge help!
Ada: I would agree; the student’s behavior.
Waniya: For me I did not know if I would know the answers to their homework questions. I have definitely had some difficult questions that caused me to learn the subject again and then explain it to them.
Working with students you learn a lot. What did you not know year 1 that you know now?
Diana: I didn’t realize how advanced the education system/curriculum was. I guess I hadn’t been paying attention once my children were finished with their schooling. I seriously learn so much from the students.
Ada: It didn’t initially register with me that any student, no matter race or socio-economic background, when receiving one-on-one attention, will thrive. I’ve seen that be true time and time again at BCM.
Ed: I didn’t think about family background and family structure dynamics and what implications this would have on a students ability to learn, behave, and interact among their peers.
Waniya: Now that I’m three years in the game I know how to deal with difficult students -- and when I say difficult, I mean a student that doesn’t want to receive help. I have a tough shell now-- I’ve learned how not to take offense.
Since KidSmart has on average 40-50 students each year, it is safe to say you deal with a variety of students each year. I presume you’ve had a wide range of success as well. But have you had any failures?
Diana: Unfortunately, yes. But I’ve realized that I can’t save all my students. Some of my students have outside barriers that are beyond my limit of control. I also have limited expertise, and I’ve learned to be okay with that.
Waniya: Yeah, last year I wanted a student to know their multiplication table 1-12 by heart. I worked super hard with the student, but the student was indifferent about knowing them fluently. As the year came to a close, I realized I was not going to reach my goal, but I was still happy that the student knew 1-4 by heart. I guess you lose some and win some.
Ada: I had a student who I just couldn’t get through to. It appeared the ability was there, but role models outside of KidSmart were a bad influence. The student didn’t even complete KidSmart, which was a bummer.
Ed: I can’t really think of any right now.
Now that you’ve been working with BCM for a few years, what has changed?
Ada: A lot! Diana has done an incredible job of streamlining the program. The necessary resources and supplies are readily available. And Diana has brought order and consistency in understanding the reading scores and levels of each student.
So would it be safe to say, as the years go by the job gets easier?
Waniya: It does most definitely. You start to see repeating situations, so you just know how to handle it. I think learning how students will react is a big advantage that definitely makes the job easier, especially those students who continue to come year after year. Developing relationships with students makes the job a lot easier.
Ed: One-on-one is a lot easier now, but having to juggle nine kids is definitely a challenge.
Ada: Yes, especially when kids return because you build an understanding with them.
Diana: It’s not easy and your heart has to definitely be in it. I would say its easier being as I now know what I’m doing.
After the interview, I took a moment to reflect on the impact these four individuals have had on their students. These are ordinary people like you and I who want to see students receive a preeminent education. Each year we get new volunteers, but I’m always amazed by the volunteers that come back year after year. It’s so refreshing to hear them say things like, “I look forward to coming back each year.” Volunteer and staff have celebrated times of success and persevered through times of failure, making KidSmart an epicenter of educational growth and learning. Our children deserve the best education possible and I am so proud to be a part of an organization whose vision is to see our youth graduate from school and emerge as leaders in their community.
From left to right: Diana, Waniya, Ada, Ed