Diana MacArthur, a graphic designer with an art education background, tutors an eighth-grader in the CSV Learning Center at Vassal Lane Upper School in Cambridge.
When her children attended Haggerty Elementary School, MacArthur was consistently involved as an informal parent volunteer. She helped out with events and classroom activities (think cupcakes, school talent shows, and fundraising for the parent-teacher organization). As her children grew older, her volunteering role needed to grow as well. “I felt like I wanted to spend more of my time doing something that was going to affect students more directly,” she says.
One of the more intangible tools of the trade she brings to her weekly tutoring session is familiarity with adolescence. As a parent of both a high schooler and a student at the middle school where she tutors, she’s willing and able to see things from a student’s point of view. “I remember my middle school,” says MacArthur.
“Middle school is a hard period of life, and that’s with everything going really well,” says MacArthur. “But if your school experience is also difficult (and, imagine if you’re struggling at home)—you want somewhere to be a safe spot.”
Despite her empathy, MacArthur didn’t quite know what it would be like to plunge into a tutoring center when she signed up in the fall of 2015. Several months into her service, she describes it as a community. “I like the atmosphere—taking space in the libraries, sharing the two libraries. There’s a feeling of ‘Everyone’s here to help you’—very welcoming. It’s a nice time of the day, a little more relaxing than the press of the school day.”
It’s true—games and conversation are part of the session. That’s because relationship-building between tutor and student is a kind of critical substrate. Without the trust that’s built over time, CSV upper school Learning Centers would not be as effective in helping students raise achievement in math, English, and other subjects.
Diana says her tutee “is showing me a card game from Haiti that his parents taught him. He likes that he can teach me something.”
“Even though sometimes he has done some of his homework in class already, I’m there to be part of the forces keeping him motivated and focused. Since I’m also a parent, I have seen him in school, and he knows my daughter goes there. He knows I know his health teacher who runs the after-school program where he often plays basketball after tutoring. It must feel a little good to know that there are people talking about you in positive ways.”
To become an upper school tutor like Diana, sign up for an orientation: