Reading a letter to the editor that mentioned the volunteer work that occurs at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School (GBMS), I knew I had to chime in on the impact that these programs have on our students. There are two programs in particular which I think are good examples of what is great about Oak Park.
I am a volunteer in the African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education (APPLE) tutoring program and my daughter participates in the Math Academy run by Michelle and Austin Harton. These two extra curricular programs are about volunteer involvement, nurturing our children, and helping them to achieve their potential. As we prepare for transitions within our district and at GBMS, understanding the importance and the need for continued support of these programs is essential.
The APPLE after school tutoring program started several years ago and is staffed by African American and non-African American volunteers of diverse backgrounds. Volunteers include students from nearby colleges, parents, and other residents from the community. All share the singular purpose of wanting to make a difference. Sessions are organized two times during the week to help students with their homework assignments. Some are referred by GBMS teachers trying to get remedial help for students in danger of failing to meet the standards. Many, already surpassing the minimum requirements, are simply trying to improve their grades. At least one student who regularly attended APPLE tutoring sessions has been recognized with honor roll achievement the last two years. While students in danger of failing to meet standards are the target group, GBMS students at any academic level, and from any ethnic background, are welcomed.
The Math Academy targets African American students that have high potential in math. Its focus is to accelerate students in math by enhancing the 7th and 8th math curriculum, and forging bonds between the students, thus, creating a peer group of math scholars that leverage their talents to navigate the more demanding and difficult high school years. Students in this group are encouraged to take honors and advanced placement offerings at the high school. The objective is to increase the number of African American students in honors math at the high school and to ultimately increase the number of African American students that gain admission to and successfully compete at top tier colleges, such as MIT and Stanford.
I have been fortunate to be able to witness the benefits provided by these programs. I have experienced both the frustrations and the rewards of tutoring. It can be frustrating dealing with "nearly teenagers" and teenagers at the end of a long day for both of you. When I consider that students and tutors are there voluntarily, it is easy to stay focused on helping the students grow. There is no better reward than seeing the students improve academically.
As the fortunate parent of a Math Academy student, I have proudly watched my child's confidence and abilities grow. I am also very glad that she is forging bonds with others that not only look like her, but share her commitment to high academic achievement.
Sure, it's not easy all the time working with our students but it's so very important and as the earlier letter implied, we can always use more volunteers and embrace more students.