Growing up in Baltimore with her early years spent in the Bolton Hill neighborhood, Martha Socolar is very familiar with Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian and its work in the community.
“I have fond memories of going to the Brown Memorial Nursery School and playing with my friends in the tot lot,” Martha recalls.
You could say that Martha and the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program, which began in 1963, have grown up together.
Martha has been actively involved with the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program for about 18 years. In 2001, after working at the Maryland Historical Society and the Baltimore City Life Museums, she realized how much she enjoyed working with school children who came to the museums on class trips. She felt she wanted to spend more time working as an educator, really getting to know the children and encouraging their learning.
She returned to school to earn a graduate degree in elementary education. Around the same time, she volunteered as a tutor at the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program. Two years later, she became the program’s assistant director. Since 2008, Martha has been the director of the Tutoring Program.
Martha is an experienced program administrator, juggling multiple tasks that include student assessments, volunteer tutor training and maintaining good communication and strong relationships with partnering schools and program supporters. One of the first things most people notice when meeting Martha is her warm and ready smile. The next is her infectious laughter. She is a caring person and this is felt by the children who come to the program and the tutors who work with them.
“Over nearly 20 years of being involved with the tutoring program, seeing children read for the first time, or sharing after months of feeling too shy or embarrassed, it absolutely never gets old,” Martha says. “This program is a gift to the students, to the tutors and to the staff.”
Over the past 50 years, the Tutoring Program has played a vital role for many children in Baltimore who have struggled in school. The students who are referred for tutoring have fallen behind in grade level reading, based on school assessments. After more assessment is done by Martha and Assistant Director Amy Munds, an individual tutoring plan is developed for each child. Currently, 89 first through fifth grade students are enrolled in the Tutoring Program from four Baltimore City public schools—Mount Royal, Eutaw-Marshburn, Dorothy I. Height and the Baltimore Montessori School.
At the beginning of the school year, each student is paired with a tutor who provides one-on-one tutoring in reading, writing and other skills. Currently, about 72 volunteers serve as tutors. Tutoring at Brown Memorial is based on the Orton-Gillingham phonics method but, as longtime tutors will attest, so much more is shared with the students. In addition to providing reading instruction, a tutor is a reliable caring adult presence in a student’s life, helping expand the student’s worldview and promoting self-confidence.
Every year Martha organizes training for tutors using the Orton-Gillingham method and other reading programs. In addition, throughout the year tutors and staff share a lot of information. An extensive collection of educational resources is also available, including games and a wonderful library. And it’s all located in a newly renovated space with an elevator to the third floor of the Fellowship Building!
Martha and Amy are both educators who are sensitive to the needs of the children who come to the Tutoring Program. In an effort to help the students feel relaxed and ready to learn, each tutoring session begins with a mindfulness exercise during which students say, “I am calm, I am peaceful, I am safe, I am loved.” It’s a mantra that tutors share with the students.