“I’d jokingly say to my co-workers, ‘I’m off to make the world a better place’, and that’s when I’d be going off to tutor. I’ve always believed education is important, and people need to be involved with their communities to make the city better.”
Through Boston Partners in Education, an academic mentor can develop a connection with a student so powerful, they both continue the partnership for multiple grades. That was the case for Steve Herrera, a Math Rules! (now referred to as Accelerate Math) volunteer who tutored one of his students, Gabriella, through three grades in elementary school.
Going the extra mile seems to come naturally to Steve, who makes it clear that he wants to make strides with his volunteer work. “I’d jokingly say to my co-workers, ‘I’m off to make the world a better place’, and that’s when I’d be going off to tutor. I’ve always believed education is important, and people need to be involved with their communities to make the city better.”
Initially, Steve was invited to be a Big Cheese Reader, part of another Boston Partners initiative, but when he examined the opportunities offered by the organization, Steve felt that he would be more useful as a consistent math volunteer. And so, he began making his way from State Street Corporation to the Josiah Quincy School each week.
Steve quickly learned about some of the challenges that students face, and how he could best help them. “I think the biggest challenge is on the confidence level. The fair share of the students I’ve worked with have been female. I often hear, ‘I’m a girl, girls aren’t supposed to be good at math,’ which is obviously awful–but is a real mindset. Often times it’s just getting them over that hump and reaffirm: ‘No, it’s ok for you to be good at math, that’s a good thing.’”
Steve immediately began to make long-term connections with both the teacher and the students. He’s mentored multiple students from 3rd to 5th grade, supporting their progress and achievement over the years. The first student, Gabriella, struggled with confidence issues in math and was socially shy when Steve began working with her. “To some extent, Gabby just needed positive reinforcement, but then I employed some kind of tough love. You know, ‘I know you can do this, so don’t give me ‘it’s hard’ or anything like that.’ Then, as Gabby would do better and better on her tests, she would get acknowledgement from the teacher, especially in 3rd grade.
“That teacher retired while I was a mentor, and she was probably the best teacher I’ve seen in the school system. All of this support pushed Gabby to be comfortable doing well in math. Whereas previously, her mindset was, ‘Oh, I can’t do well in math, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work.’”
While Gabriella was developing her academic skills, she and her mentor Steve developed an emotional connection that benefitted them both. “The year I first tutored her, there were four girls and I loved working with all of them. Towards the end of Gabby’s first year, the four girls all spent way too much time on a card for me to say thank you – they colored it and they put glitter everywhere. On the last day they gave me that card, and I actually still have it in my office.”
“I definitely had a special place for Gabby. We spent so much time together, and I could see her actually start to pick up stuff on her own. At the end of the school year it was pretty tough on both of us. I can’t lie, when I left the classroom that day, I cried.”
Steve explains: “I would have followed all four if I could have, but Gabby probably needed the most push so I happily followed her to the next grade. I went up to 4th and then, at that point, she had me wrapped around her finger, so there was no way I wasn’t going to follow her to 5th. Then, she graduated and went on to junior high. I definitely had a special place for her. We spent so much time together, and I could see her actually start to pick up stuff on her own. I saw her grow her math skills, as well as other skillsets and become more of a person. At the end of the school year it was pretty tough on both of us. I can’t lie, when I left the classroom that day, I cried.”
Steve continued mentoring as a Math Rules! volunteer and within a year, forged a connection with another student. He has recently finished his third and final year with this student as well. Steve is particularly proud of his accomplishments with this student who, like Gabriella, was shy and lacked confidence in her abilities when they began their work.
Recently, Steve was fortunate to run into her mother. “I was at the classroom for a regular day of mentoring, and a woman who was there came up to me and said, ‘Are you Steve?’. When I said yes, she explained, ‘Oh, I’m her mother and I’ve been dying to find out who it is that got my daughter all excited about math.’ That was my feather in my cap moment.”
Steve knows he’s made an impact in the classroom. His decision to follow students from one year to the next deepened each relationship, making the academic strides even greater. “It definitely helps to have the extra help for both the student and teacher. Teachers are usually thrilled to have that extra set of eyes and hands, just to be able to give that little bit of extra for a student who needed it at the moment. I think it has helped following year-to-year with some of the students, because it gives them more of a consistency.”
Boston Partners has made it a fundamental part of its mission to enhance academics through creating emotional connections between a child and a caring adult. We thank Steve for believing whole-heartedly in that principle, and demonstrating the impressive benefits such connections can make for everyone involved.