A Day in the Life of Cambridge School Volunteers: A City-Wide Portrait

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Every weekday, some 250 volunteers give about an hour of their time to help Cambridge public school students. These volunteers are working scientists and retired teachers, grandparents and graduate students, lawyers, librarians, parents of young children, and more. Their diversity of backgrounds and interests reflect those of the students with whom they come to connect. Together, in an array of programs, taking place at every hour, at every Cambridge Public School, volunteers and students build meaningful, even
life-changing, one-on-one relationships.

This is Cambridge School Volunteers on a typical Tuesday in winter:*

7:30 AM Mekada, a freshman at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), arrives at the CSV Tutoring Center. Makeda had commuted that morning from the Cambridge Housing Authority apartment where she lives with her mom, taking the MBTA Red Line from Alewife to Harvard Square. Inside the Center’s large, open classroom, she joins a group of fellow students sitting with Rashan, their volunteer tutor, whom she sees twice a week at this hour, to review physics. Makeda shows him the place in her problem set where she is stuck this time, and they start to puzzle through the question together. She thinks of Rashan, a graduate student, as a cool, physics whiz. When the 8:05 bell rings to start school, Makeda feels ready for the day’s quiz.

7:35 AM Inside the brand-new Putnam Avenue Upper School, several upper school students sit down with their tutors from Harvard University men’s golf team to review coordinate planes, the current topic in their math class. The students, each tapped by their teachers for extra support, come to school an hour early, twice a week, to review math with their volunteer tutors. “We missed you guys over break,” one of the tutors tells “his” student, Connor. A smile comes over Connor’s face, but he protests, “Nah, you didn’t miss us at home in Cali.” “I did,” says Zach. “I thought of you on New Year’s, how you made the resolution to do what it takes to pass math this year.” Connor is tall for his age, but gangly and shy, with a mouthful of braces. He can’t stop smiling as he walks out of tutoring, because his tutor remembered what he’d said almost a month ago. He was going to pass math—watch him.

9:00 AM Jane, an Intergenerational Math Program tutor, arrives at a Graham and Parks School second-grade classroom, where she’s working with a struggling math student, Arun. After listening to the teacher present how to make a model for a word problem, Jane and Arun discuss the problem together. Mostly, Jane asks questions,as Arun tentatively draws a bar chart. At the same time, a literacy volunteer is working with a student at Tobin Montessori School, and a retired nurse volunteers in a Kindergarten classroom at Cambridgeport School, setting up the veterinarian corner for the students.

10:00 AM Every seventh-grader from the Rindge Avenue Upper School heads out on a field trip to meet with their Cambridge School Volunteers’ NetPal to learn about careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and/or math) fields. The seventh-grade cohort split up to visit four locations: Cambridge Systematics, Grace Construction Products, Oracle, and Vecna. Students are eager to see what science looks like in practice at work, and to meet their “own” NetPal face-to-face, after a month of email exchanges.

10:05 AM A few minutes later, a Tufts University undergraduate student from the Spanish in the Community class signs in at the dual- language Amigos School, where she is helping second-grade students learn Spanish.

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Volpe Transportation Systems (DOT) Reading Buddies have been walking over to Kennedy-Longfellow School to read to and to be read to by second- and third-graders during their lunchtime for many years.

12:00 PM Every Tuesday, CSV Reading Buddies are ready to spend their lunch hour with students at two Cambridge elementary schools. Volunteers from Sanofi Genzyme arrive en masse, by company bus, at Fletcher-Maynard Academy, where every first-grader has a Reading Buddy from the biotech corporation. A few blocks away, at Kennedy-Longfellow School, Reading Buddies from the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center are paired up in the classroom and the library with second- and third-graders.

2:30 PM As classes end for the day at the high school, the CSV Tutoring Center is humming. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the second floor, in the library’s fiction room, juniors work one-to-one with tutors to prepare for the SATs. In the same room, several CSV College Readiness teams are also hard at work. Having already submitted their “Common Apps” these students are now writing essays in the hopes of earning scholarships. One tutor is proud to hear from “his” student: “I got in! I got into WPI!” Upstairs, student participants on the Science Olympiad team are meeting with their CSV volunteer advisors. An MIT Fellow from the Broad Institute describes the latest genetic editing techniques to the two students on the team she is coaching for the statewide competition.

3:00 PM CSV after-school Learning Centers kick into gear at Vassal Lane Upper School and Cambridge Street Upper School. N’Tasha rushes in with her homework, looking for her tutor, Ying, and a snack. They crack open books and crack jokes, comfortable with each other after weeks of working together. They focus on N’Tasha’s social studies homework, and her French, until the late bus announcement at 4:15.

4:30 PM Outside the school, in the twilight, N’Tasha spies Ying, and she hangs out of the bus door to yell: “Remember you promised to bring the graphic novel in French next time!” Ying give her a thumbs-up. When N’Tasha’s bus rolls through Kendall Square, a little while later, she looks at Ying’s office tower and has a premonition: When she’s grown up, she is going to travel abroad, just like Ying.

*Names of volunteers and students have been changed.