At Boston Partners in Education, we often refer to ourselves as a bridge between the Boston community and the Boston Public Schools. One such school is the Jackson/Mann K-8 School, the structure of which is a literal bridge that extends over the street below. Jackson/Mann’s principal, Andy Tuite, says that the school is kind of a microcosm of BPS as a whole, for the Jackson/Mann happens to have a very similar demographic make-up to the city.
Andy Tuite explains, “The Jackson/Mann is a school of about 800 students, one of two regional schools in BPS. I’m not sure how we got that designation, but it means that we have probably more kids from more neighborhoods than most other schools do. So, we have students from what used to be the “North Zone,” which includes Charlestown, and Allston and Brighton. And South End and Roxbury. And now we have quite a few kids from different neighborhoods in Dorchester too. We have the 800 students. About 300 — somewhere around 40% of them — speak a first language other than English. We have a multilingual sheltered English emergence program, which means that we get kids who speak languages from all over the world.”
Andy remarked that the population of his school is shifting, which presents an even greater challenge for educators. “In the time that I’ve been here, the populations of students who speak Chinese, either Cantonese or Mandarin, has grown. And the last couple years I’ve been here, we’ve had a significant growth in Arabic speaking population.” That makes for a deeply multi-cultural environment with a great deal of ESL and ELL students.
Fortunately, the school is placed in a convenient area that gives them access to a host of organizations that can offer mentors, classroom assistance, and extra-curricular activities, enabling the Jackson/Mann to support each student with an individualized plan that best meets those students’ needs. That means they have gotten pretty good at identifying the kinds of students who would benefit most from Boston Partners’ volunteers, and the value that Boston Partners adds to the ecosystem of support at the school.
“[One] student did not want to do the reading. The kid was like, ‘No, I’m not going to do this every week.’ And then, I remember the day I was watching [the student and mentor] walk back to the classroom after they had done their work, with the student reading a book as he was walking along. And just the power of that message.”
Kate Rossi, who is the City Connects Coordinator at the Jackson/Mann, emphasized the social benefits of Boston Partners’ academic mentoring programming. “It’s a mentor. It’s academic, but it’s also a person for the student to connect with that’s not necessarily someone from the school. I think for kids who come from all over Boston, it’s nice for them to see someone taking time out of their day who doesn’t have to, coming to that school just to be with them. And I think there’s a level of accountability that I start to see with some of those students. [The students feel] if they are coming in for their time, then I have to step up to. It’s another person besides their teacher who is holding them accountable for their work.”
Kate, who is in charge of choosing which students go to which programs, mentioned that there is a specific type of student they flag for this program. “It’s usually a student that is doing okay academically, but may need a little more support. It’s not the student that is really far behind and might need testing for IP, but it’s a student that just needs a little one-to-one extra support. So that’s when a teacher says ‘Listen, this student may be starting to fade out a little.’ And what you see with that is if a student is having a hard time you start to see them withdraw a little bit more and you start to see that red flag, and you say, ‘Let’s pull that student out, get them one-to-one, and build their confidence.’”
Andy and Kate both stressed that they appreciated the training and commitment of the academic mentors who spend their time with the students, and mentioned it as one of the strengths of the Boston Partners programs. Andy recalled one of his favorite volunteers, a man named Chris, who consistently went the extra mile to help his student.
“He was one of our tutors with a Somali student who did not want to do the reading. I remember watching them, pleading with him, ‘No, we’re going to do this every week.’ And the kid was like, ‘No, I’m not going to do this every week.’ And then, I remember the day I was watching them walk back to the classroom after they had done their work, with the student reading a book as he was walking along. And just the power of that message.”
Kate shared a story about one of her favorite volunteers. “We have an Arabic speaking student who was having a real hard time grasping Math, no surprise. But he came to me himself and said, ‘I need a tutor.’ So my job was to go out — I actually contacted Peter Darling [Boston Partners’ Senior Partnerships Manager] directly and said, ‘I’m looking for an Arabic mentor.’ Next week, he had placed an Arabic speaking tutor, which blew my mind.”
“[The mentor] has been absolutely wonderful,” Kate explains. “She has gone to every single one of his teachers and collected whatever information she needs for him to find success. She sends me page-long emails. She always apologizes for them being too long, but they are these wonderful detail-filled emails of what she needs, what the student needs, things he is doing well, what he is still struggling on, what he needs to move forward.” Not only is the academic mentor deeply motivated, but her student is responding to her visits very positively.
Kate continues, “He has come to rely heavily on her and it’s wonderful to see. He’s always excited for when she is here, always is waiting in the office for her time slot. And for me, that was really nice because he was more of a withdrawn character, and just to see someone come in and see someone speak his language and really explain to him in detail these concepts he wasn’t able to grasp because of the language was really important for him. For his confidence alone! That’s to me is one of the biggest moments that sort of stands out for me with Boston Partners.”
“A student came to me himself and said, ‘I need a tutor.’ I contacted Peter Darling from Boston Partners directly and said, ‘I’m looking for an Arabic mentor.’ Next week, he had placed an Arabic speaking tutor, which blew my mind.”
Andy and Kate work very hard to ensure that each student can have an experience at the Jackson/Mann similar to the two students mentioned here. But, they stress that the services offered by their partners are the critical component that makes it all possible. Kate explains, “The reality is that every day we have requests from students, teachers, and families looking for services and enrichment activities and programs, and we are beyond fortunate with [Boston Partners] that I can sort of pick and choose. Within a week or two, have something set up and a student is being served by that, which is not always the case in other schools. So for me, just having these kind of groups to choose from makes things a lot easier and provides that next level of care for our students. And that next level of care is huge for us. We have the base level of academics, but that next level of enrichment is what we hope to achieve and we just can’t do it without the partners, so we are beyond fortunate.”
From the perspective of the school leadership, Andy shares a similar sentiment. “We don’t do what we do every day without our partners. Not capable. We do not serve the 800 kids in the Jackson/Mann appropriately without our partners. Our City Connects people touch probably, they may not touch all 800 kids every day, but pretty close to it. I would venture to say, that in the course of the day, any one given day, minimally half of our kids are touched by a partner directly that day.”
Speaking specifically about Boston Partners, Andy says, “I think BP is kind of the classic example of an organization that has discovered a need and helped fill that need every day in the school. Boston Partners is a citywide organization, and they serve Jackson/Mann so well. I think especially, maybe less the academics because that’s our job, but the socio-emotional well-being of the school is served incredibly by all the partners. It sounds like a cliché to say you couldn’t do the job without the partners, but that’s us.”
Andy likes to share an image with his students. The skyline of Boston is visible from the 4th floor of the Jackson/Mann, and he tells them to think about the people who come from those buildings to spend time with them at their school. “And we use this example for our kids to know how important it is for them that there are people who work in that city downtown who are in positions of power, or positions that the kids might aspire to, and they are taking time to come back and give back to the kids. That really simple message makes a huge difference to a child.”
If the demographics of the school reflect the demographics of Boston, then what is happening at the Jackson/Mann is also a reflection of the best aspects of Boston’s community. In an age of networking, we are still discovering the possibilities made by connections, relationships, and the bridges that education can provide.
To become an academic mentor at the Jackson/Mann K-8 School, or another of the Boston Public Schools, simply fill out our Volunteer Academic Mentor Application.