Martha Byington is a second year volunteer at the Blackstone Elementary School in the South End. She visits two classrooms each week. One of these is Lisa Goncalves-Lavin’s first grade class. Martha has been a lifelong volunteer: in fact, she’s volunteered in a variety of ways since she was 18 years old.
When we first asked Martha to describe her experience she warned, “I might cry!” She didn’t,  and we had a great time chatting. Read more about her below.

Byington-Lavin (50)You’ve been a volunteer for a long time. What brought you to Boston Partners in Education?
I’ve always been interested in doing something with education. I also tutor inmates every other month through the College Behind Bars program, sponsored by Boston University.

Martha also writes letters to the inmates in between sessions. Currently she is doing research about ancient art for one of the men with whom she is working.

My trainer at the Y told me about Boston Partners in Education – he himself tutors at the Quincy School. He thought that I would really like volunteering. I listen to him for all things related to my health, so I listened to him about Boston Partners.

Byington-Lavin (40)

This is your second year, why did you decide to come back?
I was astonished at Lisa’s ability to work with students. I used to be from the school of thought that public school children had to go to charter school to be educated and I realized that was totally, totally not true. So, I decided to come back for another year. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned! Trust and respect are so important. Watching Lisa manage the class… I went once when there was a substitute and it was not the same! Lisa’s always checking on everyone in the room. She knows to take nonverbal cues.

Lisa and I email each other all the time. It’s the easiest way for her, because she’s incredibly busy. She lets me know what’s happening and I give her feedback often. We even have coffee together some times. I definitely feel supported by the staff at the school.

Who are the students you are working with this year?
I have two new students and I’m following two students from last year. One of my new students I knew from last year, but we didn’t work together (I’m not sure that the other children don’t know that I’m not working with them. I’ll always answer their questions). These kids were challenging last year and continue to be challenging this year, but who’s going to give up on a seven year old? That would just break your heart!

Byington-Lavin (63)What does your typical Math Rules! session look like?
All the children smile, which is a great way to be greeted. Lisa goes through the lesson and then we break into groups.

Any funny moments?
The children love my hearing aids.

What has been your biggest success?
There are small victories where you see a child struggling, and then his face lights up because he gets it. That’s what is so exciting.

Overall, how do you feel about the match between you and your students?
I love the kids. I didn’t think I was going to love them. I was scared because I didn’t know any six and seven year olds. I can’t believe how much I love them.
Byington-Lavin (55)How would you describe your experience so far?
It is excellent. This is the best volunteer experience I’ve ever had. I’ve been a volunteer since I was 18 years old. And Wendy (our Math Rules! manager) is part of that too.

Lisa Goncalves-Lavin, the teacher Martha works with, had this to say about having Martha in her classroom:

Thank you for making it so easy for Martha to come to my room again this year. I feel very fortunate to have her help!

Besides the joy she brings to the students she works with, she’s very helpful to me. I’m usually behind these four walls, alone. I miss some things; I can’t see everything. She always follows up with what she sees and learns.