Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

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We need YOU: Join the Washington Reading Corps!

WRC logoWant to make a long-term difference in kids’ lives? Consider a year of service with the Washington Reading Corps (WRC) of King County!

WRC is a statewide program that helps struggling preschool to elementary students improve their reading skills and succeed in school. WRC believes access to education and closing the achievement gap are key social justice issues with far ranging consequences directly related to our mission to end poverty and undo racism. Literacy is one of the most important factors in school success, and our goal is to ensure that all students can read by the end of 3rd grade. We also support family and community involvement in schools.

Solid Ground coordinates the WRC of King County, which serves over 1,600 students a year at more than 20 schools and community sites. Since 1997, WRC has boosted the literacy skills of close to 150,000 students statewide. Each year we place stipended AmeriCorps Members to tutor and coordinate family literacy events at WRC sites across King County.

During your year of service as a stipended, full-time AmeriCorps Member with WRC, you’ll receive extensive para-educator reading training to:

  • Tutor struggling readers, both one-to-one and in small groups.
  • Coordinate Family Literacy Nights to engage families in their children’s schools.
  • Develop analyses of institutionalized racism and low literacy, and their connection to poverty.
  • Recruit, train and support community volunteers.

Solid Ground’s WRC program is unique in the level of training Members receive in understanding and developing the skill set to be an active member of the anti-racism and social justice communities. In turn, AmeriCorps Members help recruit and train community volunteers and provide one-to-one and small-group tutoring for students.

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson describes the Reading Corps experience for people considering a year of service:

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson I would tell them that it would be challenging, but it would be the best challenge they’ve ever had of their lives. I would tell them the reward of a child’s smile is immeasurable, and you can’t even understand unless you get one. I would tell them that there’s something really magical when your students start to really understand words and language – when they really start to get it. Oh, there’s nothing like it!”

How to become a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) Member:

WRC of King County is currently seeking full-time Members for the 2012/13 school year. Benefits include:

  • bi-weekly living allowance totalling $1,050/month
  • $5,550 education award at the end of your year of service
  • health coverage

To apply, go to the My AmeriCorps website and use the Seattle WRC Listing ID #: 5006, and visit the WRC ‘s webpage for more information.

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