Some of our favorite moments at Boston Partners in Education are hearing and sharing success stories from our volunteers.  We recently had the opportunity to hear a first-year volunteer story from Eric Chapin.  Eric spent his first year at Fenway High School, helping freshmen and sophomores who were struggling with math. He had the great fortune to spend two hours of every week in the classroom of Benadette Manning, our 2011 Betsy A. Nelson Educator of the Year! Eric shared his thoughts on his experience.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Boston Partners in Education?
The main reason I chose to volunteer with Boston Partners in Education is because in mid-January I was laid off, and decided that I was going to spend the majority of my time studying for my CPA license. I needed a break from the grind of studying countless hours every day, and decided that volunteering would provide me with an opportunity to give back, and also temporarily clear my head from the grueling CPA material. It did.

Volunteer Eric Chapin with Fenway High Teacher Benadette Manning

Eric Chapin & Benadette Manning, Fenway High

Why did you want to work with the kids that you did?
I wanted to work with 9th and 10th graders because I thought the subject matter would challenge me a little bit more than the lower grades might have. Also, I’m pretty young, and I thought the students and I would be able to relate on a more personal level than I may have with younger students.

What was your goal for your students?
Whether it was teaching the kids how to use the quadratic equation, the order of operations, or helping them build their model bridges, helping the students better understand math and how it applies to everyday life was my ultimate goal.

What has been your favorite part of this experience to date?
My favorite part of the entire experience was the students, by far. When I walked in the first day, I did not know what to expect. Being white, in an almost all black class room, I thought the students may have been hesitant to receive help from a nerdy white kid who likes math. I could not have been more wrong. The students never shied away from receiving my help, and were always appreciative of any assistance I could give them. On my final day, I was actually sad to leave because I knew that most of the kids I would never see again. All I can do is hope that they find success in whatever they might do.

How has the experience of being a volunteer shaped you as a person? What have you learned about yourself?
I certainly learned to be a little more patient, because from my experience, a student almost always has it within them to learn and understand the material—you just need to give them the time to get there. I have also learned that not only do I have much more to offer these kids than I may have originally thought; they also have much more to offer me than I originally thought.

Any memorable moments with your students?
There’s one moment in particular that I will never forget. I was working with a few students trying to figure out a problem that Ms. Manning had assigned, and I just couldn’t figure it out. It was a pretty difficult problem, and I must have spent about ten minutes working out all the different possible ways that I could think of to solve it, but I just couldn’t get it. It got to the point where I didn’t see myself figuring this problem out and I asked one of the students sitting next to me, “Hey, I can get this problem to here… but I just can’t quite simplify it out to where it needs to be.” And he looks at it for a minute and says, and I’m paraphrasing, but something along the lines of, “Well Ms. Manning showed us such and such yesterday to help figure out these types of problems, maybe that might help?” And right after he’s done saying this, the light bulb in my head just went off, and I knew exactly how to finish the problem. And just like so many times that I had seen that light bulb go off in the students’ heads when I was teaching them, the light bulb went off in my own head because of something that a student had taught me. I just thought that was kind of a cool moment.

Anything else about your experience you would like to share?
There’s just one last thing I would like to share. Ms. Manning always talks about how her students need help and that they need us volunteers in order to help them learn and grow as students and people. Well, I think that I needed them as much as they needed me, because not only did my time with them give me a chance to clear my head from all the burdens of everyday life and studying for the CPA exam, but it also taught me more about life than I could ever learn in some CPA test book.

You can listen to Eric speak to us about a memorable moment here: