If the concept pans out, some of the most promising developments for hiking achievement in city schools won’t take place in the classroom.
They will take place after school in community centers, churches, museums and anyplace else where adults can demonstrate the value of education and model for kids the type of behavior – academic and otherwise – that is a prerequisite for success.
In the process, the effort by the United Black Men’s Think Tank of Buffalo will address teachers’ long-standing complaints about being unable to teach because too many students with bad attitudes and no motivation disrupt the classroom.
Other educators counter that classroom management and being able to cultivate students’ interest is part of the art of teaching. But rather than get bogged down in those polarizing debates, the Think Tank wants to deal with the realities facing city schools – including the need to meet the Common Core standards. While suburbanites are up in arms over the higher bar, many in the city who have long recognized that their kids aren’t being prepared are embracing it.
However, they also recognize that too many city kids come to school without the necessary guidance and aspirations, or the exposure to people, events and experiences that can cultivate those aspirations.
Hence, the Think Tank effort to catalog existing mentoring and tutoring programs, figure out where the gaps are and recruit more adults to contribute.
While many community groups already run tutoring programs, the goal is to create a structure that also allows potential mentors without a lot of time to step into a kid’s life. It could be as simple as talking with the student a couple of times a week, meeting for a half-hour or hour once a week or every other week, and taking the student to a museum or similar venue every quarter, said L. Nathan Hare, Think Tank chairman.
The idea is to expose young people to what education and proper attitude and behavior can lead to, and give them a chance to build relationships with adults who have parlayed those attributes into successful lives.
“If we could get kids into that kind of structure, so they respond to that role model rather than what they’re responding to in the street, we could calm the atmosphere in the schools,” said Hare, who also is executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County.
If the community can help teachers in that way, Hare said, “hopefully they will give more of themselves to the teaching process.”
The Think Tank already has begun meeting with Buffalo school officials, who are excited. Will Keresztes, district chief of student support, says the plan has “great potential.” While contractual and legal issues limit direct ties, he says the district wants to be “a vessel with these organizations,” letting parents know what’s available and then letting them follow up. The Think Tank effort will be officially launched at the district’s College Fair in February.
No one expects mentors to teach test prep. Rather, the goal is the larger issue of getting students to understand, in Hare’s words, “what the terms of engagement are” to be successful.
Still, if the Think Tank partners can accomplish that, it will make teachers’ jobs a lot easier – and students’ lives a lot better.