It started with a casual question from a neighbor. “Do you want to go tutor?”
With her own children in school, Jigger Kratz accepted the offer and went to the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program. There she met Tasha, a 1st grader, and they began working together on reading. “Off I went, and I loved it.”
The year was 1984.
Jigger is still at it, never missing a year and once again this fall, she will be serving as a volunteer tutor in the program. Over those three decades, she has tutored more kids than she can count, working with some for a year, others for a couple of years.
The program, which has existed for nearly 60 years, provides one-on-one tutoring in reading, writing and other skills to children from three Baltimore City public schools.
Volunteers like Jigger are the program’s backbone. Each works with one or more children throughout the school year, providing a reliable adult presence in lives that are often unpredictable and difficult.
Jigger has learned how to work well with the kids she tutors. She realized that her first student, Tasha, arrived at the program without having any breakfast. “She was so hungry and couldn’t do any work,” she remembers. Jigger started bringing in a piece of fruit each week.
She recalls the students who had aha moments about the “magic e” (that turns preceding vowels from short to long) or the one whose eyes widened when she explained what math division is – “opposite of multiplication.” Jigger has helped coax shy kids into performing in short plays – after writing their own scripts. And she’s learned that sometimes what her tutee needs most is simply time and space to take a nap.
Jigger has contributed in many ways to the success of the Tutoring Program. She has served on its advisory board and recruited a dozen new tutors, including several from her church, Emmanuel Episcopal.
And each year, she buys a bag full of Santa hats to give one to each kid; at Mother’s Day, she brings in flowering plants and soil to put in mugs for the kids to put together a plant to take home.
“The kids are proud of themselves for what they do for Mother’s Day,” she says.
The Tutoring Program, she says, plays a vital role. “Baltimore has so many problems and there are no easy answers,” Jigger says. “This is something I can do that really has an impact on these children’s lives.”
Aside from the reading instruction, the program provides other key benefits — pride, confidence and satisfaction – key building blocks for any healthy child. “The program’s benefits are subtle in some ways. The testing does not show everything the kids get out of it. It’s been exceedingly rewarding for me as well.”