Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon and Kelsey Manning
January 23, 2020
Sharon and Kelsey Manning are a mother/daughter pair who are partner tutors at Merry Oaks International Academy, working with the same students on different days every week! We sat down with them to learn more about their experience as Heart Tutors.
Q: How did you get involved with Heart Math Tutoring?
Kelsey: I work for Bank of America, and Heart gave a presentation at my office encouraging us to volunteer. I’ve been a Heart Tutor for five years now!
Sharon: Kelsey and I were at a breakfast in December 2017, and the discussion around the table was inclusivity and how we could get involved on a local level. Kelsey challenged me to come alongside her and be a part of the Heart program, so I joined in January 2018. After that semester, we began partner tutoring so we could work with the same students. This is our 2nd year as partner tutors.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with the same students over multiple years?
K: When I volunteered at Westerly Hills Academy I had the same student for 3 years. It’s so great and so impactful to see how much they change. Even going from the first to the second semester, coming back from winter break, having that time apart from them for a little while makes you realize how much they’ve grown. The effect is doubled after coming back from summer vacation – there’s a few cobwebs to clear away, but then you realize how much progress they’ve made since you worked with them in the previous year. It’s great to be able to leverage our relationship when my student is feeling a little shy or intimidated. We even saw one of our students when we were out in Uptown once, and it was so great to say hi and meet her family!
Q: What are the benefits of having a partner tutor and how do you utilize that relationship?
K: Since we are mother and daughter, it’s a lot easier. It’s neat for our relationship because we can connect about the girls and talk about their progress. I would totally recommend for anyone to partner with someone you know if you can – it not only helps you provide a better experience for the students, but helps your relationship since you are helping the community together!
S: It also provides a level of accountability, making sure we both are being the best tutors we can be. The students even know about our relationship – if Kelsey isn’t able to come to tutoring one week, the students will say “Where was Kelsey this week?! You’re her mom, you should make sure she comes to tutoring!” We can also share with the students about our lives – when Kelsey got engaged, I showed my student a picture of Kelsey with her fiancé, and our student was SO excited for her!
K: And that gives the students more to talk about with us. They asked me after that, “Your mom said you’re engaged! Can I see more pictures?”
S: We will even have phone calls about tutoring to compare notes, and put our heads together if a student is struggling with a concept or has trouble focusing. Communicating about what we hear from our students helps us understand what is happening outside the classroom – it’s a conduit for communication. We have seen a change the way our students respond to us, just in one short semester. They’ve gotten to know us and are so much more comfortable.
Q: Outside of math, what do you talk about with your student(s)?
S: One of our students is extremely shy and we’ve been able to work on making eye contact, speaking up, and being confident. We want her to believe that her words are important, and that her voice matters. I’ll tell her, “That’s the right answer! Say it emphatically!” We’re slowly trying to pull her out of her shell, and it’s great that we can work together and both see the progress she makes.
K: And now that Mom has told me what she’s doing with our student, I make sure to give the same messages for consistency. Another thing is that both of our girls are Spanish-speaking, so I ask them to teach me a Spanish word on my way back to class. I told mom about it, and we’ve started writing down the words they teach us so we can keep track of everything that we’ve learned throughout the year. Now the girls look forward to it and will even have words prepared before they see us!
Q: What is your favorite or the most rewarding part of being a tutor?
S: When you get to the end of year and you look at the difference between where your student was on the first day and last day of tutoring, the difference is tremendous.
K: The small victories throughout the year, as well – brain checks, making it through the notebooks, getting to track the progress students make toward their goals and seeing how excited they are about it.
“When you get to the end of year and you look at the difference between where your student was on the first day and last day of tutoring, the difference is tremendous.”
Q: How does your tutor experience impact other parts of your life?
K: Obviously the unique experience I’m able to share with my mom has impacted our relationship. I’m also a graduate of CMS, so being able to give back and address a large need is really rewarding. I work in a corporate environment and sometimes it’s a stretch to make it work with my schedule and I may feel stressed at times, but when I get to the school, I never second-guess why I’m there. It really grounds me and sets a great positive tone for the rest of the week.
S: I get great joy out of doing something for somebody else. It takes the focus off me and my perceived problems, and helps put into perspective where I am, the resources I have, and how I can use my resources to help in a larger way. It seems like such a small thing but as soon as I get there, get the kids, and get going, it’s like an adrenaline rush – you’re so glad that you’re doing this, and that feeling spills over into the rest of your day and week.
K: My mom makes a good point, I would say I think everyone innately wants to give back to the community, get involved, but uses the excuse about not being able to give the time or commit to a whole school year. With Heart you have a regular routine and you have to be there weekly – I look back on my month and my year, and it’s reaffirming to me that I’ve made a large impact and it’s because of that routine – it makes sure that I’m there, and it adds up week over week.
“When I get to the school, I never second-guess why I’m there. It really grounds me and sets a great positive tone for the rest of the week.”
Q: How has the support from Heart and the Program Coordinators impacted your experience?
S: We as volunteers don’t have to create anything, we don’t have homework, don’t have to prepare ahead of time. We can walk in and grab our materials and go – Heart has made the process so streamlined and seamless. Heart takes care of everything so we can just focus on our time with the students. It makes it easy to do it weekly. I really like the fact that we can take the curriculum home to practice and prepare if we want. I also love the high energy level that everyone carries into the room while we’re there, and the sharing of information through the monthly newsletter. If there are school holidays or school events I plan to attend, I can use the dates to plan ahead. I enjoy having that information.
K: The curriculum makes it so easy, the Program Coordinator is always there to help with questions or concerns, and they know your students by name. You can really feel the commitment to the program from the coordinators. And the flexibility too is a great selling point. I hear a lot of people say they can’t commit because they can’t make it work with their schedule, but the flexibility is there if you need to reschedule due to work, lifestyle, etc.
Q: There are a few common concerns people have when they consider becoming a Heart Tutor, and we would love to hear how you address these concerns. What would you say to someone who has these concerns?
I am no good at math.
S: If you can play dice, play cards, and read on a basic reading level, you don’t have an excuse!
I am no good with kids.
S: Because the curriculum is so well-written and leaves nothing to chance/interpretation, give it a try and see. If you interact with people, you can interact with children and can follow the script. You don’t have to come up with anything on your own. Just dig in and say “I’m going to do this,” and it will come.
K: The icebreakers at the beginning of the year really help you lean into the relationship. Treating them as a partner or peer if you’re intimidated by kids can help – you are partners and are both working together to improve their math skills.
I don’t have a partner tutor to sign up with.
K: Challenge someone to be your partner tutor! Go find somebody to volunteer with you! Or let Heart provide you with a partner tutor, and just get your feet wet and see what it’s all about. Once you’re more comfortable you can be a spokesperson and get your friends and family to join.
S: From a personal standpoint, we grow more when we’re uncomfortable and out of our element. This isn’t just about the kids – it’s personal improvement and beneficial for the tutor as well as a student, and signing up on your own can be a great opportunity for growth.
I don’t have time in my schedule.
S: We all make things happen if we really want them to happen. Some people are more constrained than others, but if you have a little bit of wiggle room and can adjust your schedule slightly or work from home for a bit, I’d say bring it on.
K: It’s the most rewarding hour of my week. Take the leap to just try it and see the benefits. You can start with just one student, just 30 minutes a week, and see how it goes. Talk to the people who impact your schedule – your boss, coworkers, etc., to see if they’re on board. You may not think they’ll be supportive, but you don’t know until you ask!
S: Also, it’s an important use of time – you’re investing in these students’ futures. Every child deserves equal access and equal opportunity.
K: That’s a great point – do your research and see what a large need there is, and that this is a way you can help.
Q: Anything else you want the world to know about Heart?
K: Anybody can do it! It’s easy!
S: It’s so worth it. Take 5 minutes to read Heart’s mission statement and general information about the curriculum.
“It’s an important use of time – you’re investing in these students’ futures. Every child deserves equal access and equal opportunity.”
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