Saturday, April 18, 2015


The last Saturday Tutoring session of this school year was March 28th. This means that it was also my last time volunteering there, since I will be in college next year.

In this final post, I would like to write a little about education in the city of Cleveland.

The Cleveland Municipal School District is the second largest school district in Ohio and serves nearly 39,000 students at 96 different schools.

To me, one of the most staggering statistics that I found on their website is that 100% of students receive free or reduced lunches. It makes me wonder how these kids are able to eat over weekends, breaks, and summer vacation.

Another interesting statistic is the fact that over two-thirds of students who attend Cleveland Public Schools are black. Hispanic students make up 14.4% of the student body which actually is a higher percentage than I initially expected, since I've never worked with Hispanic kids at Saturday Tutoring.

To look up academic-related statistics, I went to the Ohio School Report Cards website. By doing so, I learned that Cleveland Schools met 0 of the 24 indicators of student success. In most subjects, the majority of students did not receive a passing grade on their OGTs and achievement tests. Even worse, test scores have been declining over the past several years. Additionally, only 64.3% of students end up even graduating from high school, which is not surprising considering the extreme poverty within the district.

After doing reading and research about education in Cleveland, I have realized even more how important my volunteering is.

While I'm sad that I am done volunteering at Saturday Tutoring, I am also excited to see what volunteer opportunities there will be for me in college. I hope to continue tutoring kids, specifically in math, and maybe even take a few classes in education, since the subject is really interesting to me. I also hope that my career involves giving back as well. Whether I become a doctor, a teacher, a psychologist, or something else, I have learned through Saturday Tutoring that I really enjoy working with kids and giving back to others.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #5

Today, I tutored a sixth grader named Mizan. I asked her if she brought any homework to do, but she did not have anything with her. No backpack, no folder, no papers, no pencils. For a moment, I was at a bit of a loss of what to do. I asked her what she was learning in school, but all she said was “triangles.” She would not elaborate further on what they were doing with triangles. I had no idea if they were learning about the different types of triangles and angles, finding area and perimeter, the Pythagorean Theorem, etc. 

I decided to start with the basics. I had her draw four different types of triangles--equilateral, isosceles, scalene, right--and then describe the defining characteristics of each. She did fairly well with this. 

“Have you ever found the area of a triangle before?” I asked. 

“No, but I know how to find the area of a rectangle,” she replied.

She knew that the area of a rectangle could be found using the formula A=b*h. I proceeded to show her how a rectangle can be divided diagonally into two right triangles. Therefore, I showed her, the area of a triangle could be found using the formula A=1/2*b*h.

I had given her a problem in which the base of the triangle was 2 and the height was 5, making the area 5.  She quickly memorized this equation and put it to use successfully. However, there was just one problem.

“How do I multiply 10 times 1/2?” she asked me. 

As a student at the end of sixth grade, I had not even anticipated that Mizan would need help with multiplying fractions. 

One thing that I have noticed happens frequently with students from underserved school districts is that they often are missing important pieces. It’s analogous to constructing a building but leaving many important structural components out of the foundation. Especially in calculus this year, I have learned more than ever how important a good foundation in math is, and the middle school years are some of the most critical. 

Mizan and I sidetracked from our triangle lesson for a while to instead focus on fractions. 
“I don’t want to do fractions. I hate fractions.”

I showed her what I consider to be the easiest way to multiply a whole number times a fraction:

10 x 1  ---> multiply the top two numbers             = 10  = 5
 1    2   ---> multiply the bottom two numbers           2

She understood this concept very quickly and correctly answered every problem on multiplying fractions. On occasion, she would forget to simplify the fractions after multiplying; once I would remind her, however, she had absolutely no trouble reducing fractions. 

While we were at it, I decided to show her how to divide fractions. While she had technically learned this in school a few years ago, she could not remember how to do it (and had probably never mastered the topic when first taught). 

I taught her that dividing fractions was just like multiplying by the reciprocal. I think the term “reciprocal” scared her a little at first. Once I showed her that you just had to flip the number in the numerator with the number in the denominator, she no longer struggled with dividing fractions.

Next, I made a bold move and decided to show her the Pythagorean Theorem. Again, the was initially really freaked out by the title of the concept. While she wasn’t particularly jumping for joy over learning some new and harder math material, she didn’t object to it, either. 

I gave her a problem with a right triangle that had a base of three, a height of four, and thus, a hypotenuse of five (which is the most simple of the Pythagorean identities). Mizan understood how to square three, four, and five, but she had absolutely no idea how to square root twenty-five. She didn’t even know what a square root was. Again, I was slightly surprised, just because squaring and square rooting sort of go hand in hand, like addition and subtraction or multiplication and division. I briefly showed her how to square root a number and she subsequently got the right answer for the problem, even though it took some time.

After such a challenge, I decided to review something a bit simpler with Mizan. We reviewed how to find the area and perimeter of a rectangle, along with the basic properties of a rectangle. After just a few practice problems, she became very quick at solving anything that had to do with a rectangle.

It was now halfway through the tutoring session, so I decided to give Mizan a series of problems over all of the topics we had covered today, along with a “challenge problem.” At first, I was only going to give her five problems.

“Do you think five problems is enough?” I asked, anticipating that she would tell me that it was actually more than enough.

“I think you could actually give me six or seven,” she replied with a sly smile. 

I felt victorious. At the beginning of the tutoring session, Mizan could only talk about how much she did not like math, especially fractions. Now, she was asking for more questions! 

So I gave her seven problems, with the last one being a challenge problem. She got nearly every problem right. The few errors she did have were just with forgetting to simplify fractions and the like. 

Mizan even came very close to solving the challenge problem. The problem I gave her was of a shape made up of a right triangle and a rectangle. She was able to see that the shape could be broken down into a triangle and a rectangle. She also found the area of both the triangle and the rectangle independently. After giving her a small hint about adding the two areas together, she did so correctly, successfully conquering the challenge problem.

At this point, Mizan seemed much more open with me, and I could tell how much better she felt about her progress in math. 

A few minutes later, it was juice and donut time. Mizan and I talked for a while, actually more than most kids are willing to talk. She asked me about my school, about the classes I was taking, and how my spring break was. She was also very surprised to learn that I was just a high schooler and not a college student. Only students at the Saturday Tutoring Program think that I am older than I am (5’2” problems). 

After juice and donuts, Mizan received the writing assignment for the day, which was relatively simple since it was the last session. Mizan had to set three academic-related goals for herself and sign a contract that she would follow through on these goals over the summer. 

Mizan made the following goals:
1. Read 40 minutes a day
2. Go to the library at least once a week
3. Practice her math skills

After finishing the contract, I told her that we could play a game for the remainder of the session. She chose BrainQuest, which is a game where you ask trivia questions from various subjects. However, Mizan would only play if she asked me questions as well.

Even though the questions were designed for 6th graders, a few of them even stumped me! The nice thing about these questions was that they prompted further discussion regarding academic topics.

For example, one question read: 

Which is the smallest unit of an element: an atom or a cell?

Mizan said a cell, which is obviously the incorrect answer. However, this prompted our conversation about the difference between living and non-living things, what an element was, etc.

We continued playing BrainQuest until the session was over. Mizan was very polite and helped me put all of the pencils, books, and supplies away. She thanked me for helping her and wished me a good spring break.

“I think I’m gonna save these notes and these problems you gave me,” she said as we started to leave. “I want to keep working on this math until I understand it fully.”

I was very happy with Mizan for all of the progress she made and for being such a cooperative student.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #4

March 21st, 2015

Today, I tutored a little girl named Evelyn who was in fifth grade. I also remember having tutored her last year. She is one of the only white students in the program. 

Since Case Western was still on spring break during this tutoring session, the room for fifth and sixth graders was incredibly crowded. Many people were even on the floor, sitting on bean bag chairs and pillows. Luckily, Evelyn and I found a spot at the end of a table which was much more comfortable.

Evelyn mostly needed to work on math during the session. She was working on dividing decimals in her math class--something I hadn’t done by hand in a long time. At first, Evelyn was really struggling with this topic and had no idea how to do the problem. I am not sure if she learned it in school but still found it difficult or if it was brand new material for her. Either way, I tried to think of a way that would be the easiest for her.

One method that usually makes students more excited or willing to math is by using white boards. It also makes it easier for me, as the tutor, to show her example problems. I went over to the table in the room to grab some white boards and Expo markers, but almost all of the boards were dirty and dented. Additionally, none of the markers worked; in fact, most didn’t have tips at all. Because of this, I am thinking about donating some supplies to the Saturday Tutoring Program or holding a drive for next school year. Even though I will no longer be tutoring there at this time, I think that the program would benefit greatly from new school supplies.

Anyway, I’ll now get back to telling the story of Evelyn. While she could not initially divide with decimals, Evelyn was very good at normal long division. As a result, I showed her that you could move the decimal place over to make divisor a whole number. From there, you could carry out long division normally. At the end when you get the answer, you just had to remember to move the decimal place back to where it’s supposed to go.

This method made a lot of sense to Evelyn and I was glad that I found a way that made the process a lot easier for her. She had a worksheet with twenty-five problems on division with decimals and actually finished it rather quickly. As she went along, I checked her answers and almost all were right. The only mistake she made was forgetting to move the decimal back to where it is supposed to go at the end of the problem. However, after reminding her of this, she was able to complete the worksheet correctly. 

After doing about twenty-five long division problems, I decided that it was probably time for a change of pace. I asked Evelyn what her favorite subject in school was, and she told me that it was science. I went to look for books that were about science and found them in a classroom set. However, these books featured writing that is typically found on a standardized test such as the OGT, so the content was not the most engaging or interesting in the world. Despite this, I ended up finding a book about cells and another about outer space, both of which Evelyn read for a while. 

After completing the reading, Evelyn and I decided to tackle the writing prompt, which didn’t speak to her very much. The prompt was about doctors, nurses, and dentists. She had to write about her experiences at the doctor or the dentist, about whether she’s interested in these careers, times she had been sick or had a broken bone, or what the doctors and dentists did to make her experience as a patient nicer. 

Evelyn said that she did not have an interest in a career in healthcare. She also had never broken a bone or been in the hospital. Despite this, she still managed to write a half a page about what doctors do to make her feel better, about why she isn’t interested in a health-related career, and how she didn’t really have any significant medical stories to tell. 

Compared to many other kids in the Saturday Tutoring Program, Evelyn wrote very well and did not have many spelling or grammar issues. She also did not have trouble writing a substantial number of sentences. Because of this, she was able to finish the writing prompt very quickly.

Between math, reading, and writing, Evelyn accomplished a lot in the session, so we were able to spend the last few minutes enjoying juice and doughnut time and conversing.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #3

Today was an exceptionally challenging day at Saturday Tutoring. For the first time ever, I had to tutor three kids at once. Since Case Western is on spring break, the number of tutors was significantly lower than usual. At first, however, I only had two first-graders. 

One was Salil, the boy I tutored last week as well. He had his familiar sly smile, but this time, I was much more prepared to work with him and keep him on task.

The other was a little girl named Justice. She seemed fairly shy and quiet at first, but she was never afraid to challenge the boys in the group.

Salil brought a few math worksheets with him, and I instructed him to work on them for a bit while I helped Justice, who didn’t have much material to work on independently. While she didn’t have many worksheets, Justice did have a book in her backpack that really fascinated her. It was a book on all of the presidents, but it seemed like it was meant more for a sixth or seventh grade audience than for a first grader. Despite this, the presidents book looked as if it was Justice’s prized possession.

“I can name all of the presidents!” Justice proudly declared. 

“Wow, that’s incredible! Wanna show me?” I responded. 

I’ll admit that I didn’t really believe her, since she was in first grade. Most first graders I had worked with in the Saturday Tutoring Program struggled to read words like “boy,” let alone names such as “Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” However, I always try to keep an open mind since there are always situations where kids surprise me with how much they do know.

This turned out to be one of the situations where I was very surprised, and for the better. With virtually no mistakes, Justice pronounced the names of all of the presidents correctly. She even knew the order of the presidents. For example, while we were still reading the page on Abraham Lincoln, she told me that she knew Johnson came next. I’m pretty sure that some of Justice’s knowledge regarding the presidents surpassed mine, and I even took AP US History last year! This just goes to show how much something as simple as a book can impact a child’s life and inspire in them a genuine love of learning.

Salil, on the other hand, was struggling to stay focused on his math worksheet. At this point, I let Justice read her book for a little while so I could help Salil finish up the double-sided page of homework. While he was somewhat reluctant, Salil cooperated with me better than last time and understood the importance of completing his homework. I also told him that he could play a little with the calculator after doing his worksheet. 

Just like last week, Salil remained just as fascinated with the calculator. Sometimes, he would get a bit out of control and start slamming all of the keys down or banging on it. I explained seriously to him that you could not bang on a calculator because it would break, so he settled down a bit. However, Salil was always on a mission to create the biggest number.

Since Salil’s short game time turned out to be playing with the calculator, I decided to make it into a group lesson of sorts for everyone. I gave each kid an arithmetic calculator and showed them how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. By using calculators, I helped them learn things, such as the fact that multiplying makes numbers bigger and dividing makes numbers smaller. 

After a few minutes of incorporating the calculator into my lesson, J’Shawn and Salil both tried to get the biggest number on their calculator by multiplying large numbers together. Each time they believed they got a bigger number, they would show me the screen of their calculator, incredibly excited.

However, the minutes with the calculator were short-lived. I decided to take away the calculators and instead make the three kids work on their addition and subtraction facts. Salil was manipulative, though, and acted like he was going to go to the bathroom but instead grabbed another calculator. Soon, J’Shawn picked up on this and followed Salil’s lead to get more calculators. Eventually, I was able to make the boys hand me over their calculators. For the rest of the tutoring session, they did math in their head rather than using a calculator.

For a while, I held up flashcards and called out addition and subtraction facts to be answered by the kids. I decided to make it sort of into a game to see who could answer each problem first. I got really enthusiastic about the game, and even Salil found himself enjoying it with a wide grin on his face. In fact, he answered his addition and subtraction facts without needing to use a calculator at all.

About halfway through the tutoring session, the kids wanted to take a break and play with blocks. Since they did cooperate with the math facts, I thought that they deserved a little break. Soon, however, things got out of control, mainly with the boys, since they were building large structures with the blocks and then proceeding to knock them down, which was distracting other people who were working. As I was putting the blocks away, Ms. Wilson luckily intervened and used her authority to get the boys to behave.

After the fiasco with the blocks, I decided to read a book with the kids in order to keep them all on task. Ms. Wilson picked out the book, which was titled Henry’s Freedom Box. This story chronicled the journey of a slave named Henry who managed to escape to the North by hiding in a shipping box. The four of us took turns, each reading a page. Salil in particular protested when he reached a page with lots of words on it, but he knew that I would not let him back out of reading. Henry’s Freedom Box kept everyone’s attention very well, and we even had a small discussion about the historical context of the story.

Even though tutoring three kids at once was a challenging experience, it opened my eyes to how hard it must be for teachers to deal with a classroom of twenty, thirty, or more students.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #2

February 28th, 2015

Today, I had the opportunity to work with first graders again. One was a boy named Salil who seemed pretty mischievous, almost like he had something up his sleeve (which he literally did, at one point). Kai, on the other hand, was a very sweet girl who wanted to stay on task and get her work done. 

In school, both Salil and Kai were working on addition and subtraction facts. I decided to grab a set of flashcards that covered both addition and subtraction. 

“I’m not going to do math in my head,” Salil told me as I pulled the flashcards out of their box. “Doing math in your head isn’t cool. I just don’t feel like doing it.”

I sighed, already sensing that Salil would not be the most cooperative student that I’ve ever tutored. Because of this, Kai and I worked on addition and subtraction, while Salil remained generally unwilling to participate. 

“Come on, Salil! Why won’t you join us?” I said. “Doing math in your head is really cool. And don’t you want to see if you can do math faster than Kai can?” 

“Oh, I definitely know how I can do math faster than Kai can,” Salil said with a smirk. He left the table and came back with a calculator, still smiling triumphantly. He tried to hide the calculator from me in his shirt and then by keeping it under the table, but I quickly caught on. Meanwhile, Kai had already made a lot of progress as far as answering her addition and subtraction problems with speed. 

“Alright, well let’s see who’s faster: Kai using her brain or you using your calculator,” I replied. 

I then began giving both kids the same math problem, seeing who could answer it first. Almost every time, Kai was able to get the right answer before Salil, who was somewhat slow at using the calculator. 

“Awww man…” he said after “losing” to Kai. “I should be faster with this calculator, not slower.” 

“Well why don’t you just try doing the math without the calculator and see how fast you are,” I suggested.

Even though he was somewhat reluctant, Salil still took my advice and set the calculator aside. Salil and Kai became very competitive with each other, always trying to outdo one another as far as speed and accuracy. After seeing math more as a game than as an academic subject, Salil had a lot more motivation and was much more excited about learning.

After doing lots of math and going through the pack of flashcards multiple times, Salil and Kai picked out an educational game called BrainQuest. We played this for a while, with me asking them questions. Salil thought he was very cool whenever he answered a question correctly, and this actually encouraged him to continue participating. Kai, on the other hand, seemed more interested in learning for the sake of learning. Maybe Salil actually liked to learn but his school environment made it seem uncool, so he pretended to be disinterested. Either way, both Salil and Kai were very smart.

Soon enough, it was 11:00am, meaning that half of the tutoring session was already over. Kai and Salil were both very excited for juice and doughnut time, but not as much for the writing prompt. The prompt of the week was on reading, with a range of suggested subtopics such as favorite books, reading habits, reading being done at school, and goals for reading. 

Kai was very cooperative and wrote about four sentences, which was the goal I set for her. Even though I had to help her fix some spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, she wrote complete sentences that were related to the topic.

Salil was not too excited about the writing, so I tried to have a conversation with him about the topic first.

“Do you like to read?” I asked.

“No. I don’t read,” he replied, as if not reading was something to be proud of. 

Well, great. How was I supposed to get Salil to write about a topic that he hated? 

“Look at how much Kai has written. Why don’t you try and just write a little bit about reading, even just three sentences. You can even write about why you don’t like to read, or why reading is challenging for you. If you write three sentences, then we can play a game when you're done.”

Salil reluctantly picked up his pencil and began writing. As he worked on the prompt, Kai picked out the subtraction bingo game, which I played with her. As soon as Salil finished his writing, he joined in on the game, too. For the most part, everyone was really excited about playing bingo, and luckily, it also had an educational component to it. 

As the session ended, I was impressed with both Kai and Salil for different reasons. For Kai, I was happy that she stayed on task and seemed very eager to learn. While Salil had a rough start, he eventually became more cooperative and did end up getting a substantial amount of work done and following my directions.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Tutoring #1

February 21st, 2015

Today, I tutored a little boy in first grade named Nicholas. Out of all of the kids I’ve tutored, he was one of the most shy and quiet. Boys in particular tend to be a bit more challenging to tutor, but Nicholas was very well-behaved and stayed on task.

Nicholas brought some math worksheets with him that covered basic addition and subtraction. He was fairly slow at math and also lacked confidence in himself. 

Since Nicholas struggled with this basic math, I encouraged him to “draw out” the problems. For example, if the problem was 8 - 2, I would have him draw eight circles and then cross out two to see that six were left. This enabled Nicholas to get the right answers instead of just guessing and giving up right away. Eventually, he became a lot quicker with his addition and subtraction and didn’t always need to draw pictures to get the correct answer. 

Because Nicholas had difficulty adding and subtracting, it took a while for him to complete the worksheets. However, during this time, he remained focused. I could tell that he truly wanted to work hard and get better at math.

After completing the worksheets, Nicholas and I read a Dr. Seuss book, with each of us taking turns reading a page. Nicholas told me that his favorite books were Dr. Seuss books and he definitely perked up while reading. 

Since Nicholas struggled the most with math, I decided to try and find a way to make it more exciting for him. I picked out a bingo game called “subtraction bingo.” In this game, you read a bingo card with a subtraction fact on it and see if you have a spot on your board with the correct answer. This game allowed Nicholas have fun but also helped him work on his math skills at the same time.

Another way I worked to improve Nicholas' math was through money. We first reviewed the value of each coin and how to count money. Then, I found a box that had various shapes in it: circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, and hexagons. On a piece of paper, I wrote down the “cost” of each shape, as if they were goods being sold at the store. At first, he was the customer and I was the cashier, so he would “purchase” a shape and have to give me enough money for it. Through this, he was able to practice counting money.

Then, Nicholas and I reversed roles so that he was the cashier and I was the customer. I would give him a certain amount of money for a product and he would have to give me back the correct amount of change. This proved to be a lot more challenging for Nicholas, and understandably so. I walked him through the process of giving change several times, and he eventually started to get the hang of it. For simpler problems of this kind, he easy got the correct answer. For example, I would pay him 25 cents for a square that cost 20 cents, and he would be able to give me 5 cents back in change.

After we finished playing with money, it was juice and donut time, as well as time to complete the writing prompt, which was about good manners. Since Nicholas was just in first grade and also fairly behind in writing, he wasn’t able to write a lot for the prompt. For younger students especially, I have discovered that the best way to go about the writing prompts was first through having a conversation. I asked Nicholas to tell me about situations in which he had good manners. He came up with a few ideas, such as holding the door for people and being nice to his parents and other family members. After talking, Nicholas wrote a few complete sentences. This took a while, since I had to help him with spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I also motivated him by saying that he could choose a game or fun activity to do for the remainder of the session upon finishing the prompt. 

Toward the end of the tutoring session, most of the kids were playing with games, and Nicholas wanted to pick out a puzzle. Since he accomplished a lot academically today, I walked over to the table with him and found a geography puzzle that seemed to catch his eye.

The puzzle was of the United States. Nicholas really didn’t know much about geography and struggled to put the pieces in the correct places. One thing I was able to teach him through the puzzle was directions: north, south, east, and west. The puzzle had a compass on it, so I was able to give Nicholas hints about where certain states were geographically. For example, I would tell him that Maine was in northeast corner of the United States and he would put the piece in the correct spot. Nicholas became really familiar with directions and really enjoyed doing the puzzle. A fellow first- grader who was also sitting at our table even joined in on the fun and helped us complete the puzzle.

During this session, Nicholas gained a lot of confidence in his reading, writing, and math abilities and managed to have some fun while learning at the same time.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Hi! My name is Kate and I am a senior at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Since my freshman year, I have been working towards my designation as a service learning fellow. I also was a service learning officer for two years, helping to promote volunteering and community service at Hathaway Brown. Through the service learning program at my school, I have volunteered at various organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, such as the Cleveland Foodbank, Transitional Housing, Canine Lifeline, 2100 Lakeside, and MedWish.

While I enjoyed the volunteer work I completed at these organizations, my true passion has always been tutoring and education, even at a young age. For example, at my elementary school in New York, I tutored a girl in my grade with Down Syndrome and learned a lot from that experience.

Since 9th grade, I have volunteered at the Saturday Tutoring Program, which is an organization located in University Circle at the Church of the Covenant. The Saturday Tutoring Program is my formal service placement through HB. This program was founded in 1990 and provides students with free tutoring in a variety of subjects, such as math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. Tutoring sessions occur most Saturdays throughout the school year from 10:00am-12:00pm. The vast majority of students come from schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, though I have seen a few students from Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights as well.

I typically tutor kids in grades 1-6, both boys and girls. Sometimes I only tutor one student; other times, I've had to tutor up to three students at once. I'd estimate that 98-99% of students in the Saturday Tutoring Program are African American, and most come from underserved schools.

The next five blog posts will chronicle five sessions of Saturday Tutoring during my senior year. They will demonstrate the diverse range of experiences that I have encountered throughout my time at Saturday Tutoring and hopefully give my readers a better understanding of the Saturday Tutoring Program. My final post will talk about education in Cleveland and summarize my time as a tutor.

I hope that my blog posts will inspire others to give back through volunteerism. Even just dedicating two hours a week to service can make a huge difference in someone else's life (and even in your life, too).