“What are some ways you can show courage? What are some ways you can show someone your gratitude? Imagine you are feeling sad. What are two things you could do to cheer yourself up?”
Self reflection is one area where the Brown Memorial Tutoring students are showing off their Super Hero abilities. We are starting each session this year with a question of the week, asking students and their tutors to discuss and journal about thought-provoking questions. We are seeing charitable, kind and compassionate writings in this work which simultaneously reinforces our students’ writing, spelling and editing skills.
For example, one student wrote, “One way I can show gratitude is by helping people when they really need it. Another way I can show gratitude is by giving encouragement.”
In response to the question, “Imagine you are feeling sad. What are two things you could do to cheer yourself up?” another student wrote, “When I am sad I take a deep breath and play with my dog.”
“Close your eyes and listen as far outside as you can. Listen for the birds or a car driving by. Now listen in the building…listen for the children laughing downstairs. Now listen in the room … for the clock ticking. Now listen for your heartbeat … and breathe.”
This might sound like a yoga class, but the students in the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program are starting their sessions with a 5-minute mindfulness exercise, preparing their minds and bodies for concentration and work with their tutors.
Last fall, the Tutoring Program hosted an opening day presenter and trainer from the Holistic Life Foundation, an organization that provides mindfulness workshops and mentoring to more than 14 Baltimore City schools, who shared statistics of increased attention span, fewer fights and outbursts of anger, and a decrease in suspensions in the schools that they serve.
Brown Memorial’s tutors were impressed with the results and willing to implement these techniques during opening group time, before starting their individual sessions with students. This year Tutoring Program staff and tutors are observing a more peaceful beginning to sessions, an increase in focus and a decrease in behavioral issues.
A 5th grader in the program from Mount Royal Elementary School pointed out that practicing mindfulness is important to people. “It can help you calm yourself down from whatever you were doing before.”
The Brown Memorial Tutoring Program has been a partner with Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle School for decades. During all of those years, volunteer tutors at the program have provided one-on-one tutoring to students from the school who make the two-block walk to the church each week.
That partnership is as strong as ever thanks to Mt. Royal’s energetic principal, Job Grotsky, who has led the school for the past three years. Mr. Grotsky was pleased to find out about the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program when he got the job at Mt. Royal and considers the program an enormous asset to the school.
“Overall it’s just been amazing,” Mr. Grotsky says of the tutoring program. “It’s an extension of our work and a true partnership. We share the same mission for helping our students, and we have the same vision for where we want our students to end up.”
Mr. Grotsky became an educator after nine years of playing sax in a Midwestern-based rock and roll band called Domestic Problems. Eventually, members of the band moved into new careers.
With a mother who was a special education teacher for 42 years and a father who was a state and local school system administrator, Mr. Grotsky gravitated to teaching. After a decade in other Baltimore City schools, he took over at Mt. Royal.
Mt. Royal, like nearly all Baltimore schools, has an extremely high number of students living in low-income families. These students often need extra supports and attention to succeed in school, and the tutoring program helps meet that need. About 50 Mt. Royal students receive tutoring from Brown Memorial, and a large majority show important literacy gains each year. “You can clearly see growth with the students,” Mr. Grotsky says.
But he also appreciates another benefit the program brings to students – a consistent adult presence that allows children to develop a trusting relationship. And the fact that tutors work with the same child for an entire year – and sometimes multiple years – is enormously valuable.
“We always say we want volunteers, but we want the right volunteers,” he says. “With Brown Memorial, you get the right kind of tutors who have the right experience. And our kids just love that nurturing. All of the tutors have that nurturing quality, which is really important.
“The core goal is to bring them up in reading, but that social consistency is a huge benefit,” Mr. Grotsky says. “If you had tutors who turned over it wouldn’t be as successful. There’s the trust factor where kids can open up to tutors.”
Maintaining the partnership with the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program is part of Mr. Grotsky’s commitment to expanding ties with the community around the school.
“As a principal, it’s like a dream come true,” Mr. Grotsky says. “Even if we purchased a program like this, some may not be as successful. It’s a great program, and I’m ecstatic and very humble that we get to be the recipients.”