School Volunteer Program volunteer, Kellyanne Dignan shares her experience as a volunteer academic mentor in the Boston Public Schools.
Even though I don’t get to sleep in, Tuesday is my favorite day of the week. Just like any other weekday, I’m up at 6am but instead of starting my day with an hour of CNBC and coffee, I rush through my morning routine and head over to the Orchard Garden K-8 School in Roxbury where I spend an hour in Ms. Struckel’s fifth grade class before making my way to my office in Downtown Crossing at Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.
I’m now well into my second school year in Ms. Struckel’s classroom. The three fifth grade girls I started this adventure with are now sixth grade girls and I’m lucky enough to be working with new students who will hopefully benefit from my greater familiarity with long division! I got involved with Boston Partners in Education because I wanted to do something every week to make a small difference in the growing inequalities that plague America’s public school but I also wanted to put to rest a few of my own ghosts.
When I was doing my training to join the program I was asked to tell my personal math story. Mine is fairly thin since until I got an MBA two years ago I hadn’t stepped foot in a math class since eleventh grade. I get asked how a woman who got top marks in accounting somehow missed calculus. The answer is simple and all too familiar, one bad class and a teacher I didn’t get on with soured me on the subject until my late twenties when the lure of a business degree became stronger than my fear of a graphing calculator. The accepted story that math wasn’t “my thing” was a myth that once taken root limited my choices and opportunities.
I had the benefits of a private suburban secondary education, peers that valued challenging academics and parents who pushed me to take classes I would have otherwise passed on. If this could happen to me, I had to believe there were lots of other young girls, turned off to math not because they weren’t able to do the work but due to one or two bad experiences.
I got involved to be that extra pair of hands in the classroom, another adult cheerleader and mentor, someone to tell them they can do it, which is why I always make my Tuesday 7:30am meeting at Orchard Gardens. No matter what else happens that week I always feel good about what we accomplish in the classroom. I guarantee that watching a fifth grader have a breakthrough on decimal points will feel better than any business deal, shopping trip, or dinner out.
Since the founding of Boston Latin in 1635, the Boston Public Schools have represented a commitment to free public education unrivaled in history. Our rich academic tradition is something every Bostonian can point to with pride but each of us must contribute and invest in our collective future. The Boston Public Schools need more than just funding; they need that valuable resource we all seem not to have enough of: time. I often wonder if everyone in the city gave just one hour a week the impact we could have on our schools. I encourage anyone thinking about volunteering to reach out to Boston Partners. Your hour does not have to look like mine (not everyone is a morning person) and the commitment, so small when you think of the hours spent watching reality TV, has so much impact in reality.