Students working in Dr. Rochester's AP Physiology class
One thing I learned going through my doctoral of education program is that when you teach high school students, you're not just teaching the students, you are teaching the whole family. And teaching doesn't mean you're telling them what to do; it's reaching out, and sharing what you know, and they learn something new, and you learn something new.
I had a vision of working with students and involving everyone—parents, teachers, and coaches—because they are all part of the students’ world. Our kids spend about eight plus hours at school. That's a lot of their day at this place. So, what can we do to serve them while they're here? I started seeing in my classroom a lot of students struggling—not with reading per se—but with how to read a question on a test and how to answer it effectively. They were struggling with how to understand the teacher’s expectation. So we started talking with parents of kids who needed a little extra help.
E3—Evening Educational Empowerment
E3 really started years ago with five students who were struggling their way through. For a long time I did it solo. I had another faculty member, Bonnie Hall, who helped me with the math portion of the ACT back in the day with the first group we had. Then we just started helping wherever we could in other subject areas, and then this thing began to grow. For the past few years now, E3 has gained attention and the resources to help it grow. We now meet three evenings a week from 4:30-7:30 and serve dozens of students.
E3 is not meant to replace a teacher in a classroom, but to enhance what the teacher is already doing. Part of my role in this whole piece is making sure the students believe in themselves first. They need to know that they can do it and that they do have the capacity to learn. They might not learn at the same pace as somebody else, but they can learn. In some ways, every teenager is “at risk” because they have a "middle brain.” They are still developing, and they still make crazy choices, and they're still learning how to learn. I don't believe you can teach anybody until you reach them.
Tutors as Mentors
So I started finding a way that we could do it, which started with recruiting tutors. I knew there were others out there who have a similar passion. The best tutors often times are retired teachers and college students. So, I went to my church where I knew there were people who worked in the college department and who also worked on my staff at Kids Across America. I knew they had a passion for high school students, and that they would be equipped with everything they need to love young people. I only recruit college juniors and seniors in addition to our own faculty.
I sent them the criteria of what we needed and my phone started blowing up. Last year we had 10 tutors here from January until the end of the school year. Seven of the 10 have come back this year and helped recruit others. I hired them based on the classes that we teach here at Brentwood Academy. Everyday, they come in and we meet for 20 minutes before the students come in. I give them a heads up on what's coming up in the different classes. They all go through training, and they know the expectations here. So really I challenge them when they interview. I ask them: “Where's your passion? Where is your gifting? Where's your sweet spot? Where do you sing? What do you love?"
Our tutors are close in age to the students, but they're mature enough to say, "You really need to be about your business." They laugh with them, but they're not afraid to challenge them. It's been fun. They will come in and say, "Well, how did so and so do on that test?" So, we look and then they can see and be encouraged. So it is reciprocal.
I've watched some students who appeared to be very shy at first; their temperaments change because tutors invested and showed interest in them. It's really kind of fun to watch. I tell my tutors, "You're building relationships first and foremost. You really are going to help them learn whatever it is they're struggling with, to believe that they can learn.”
From our own faculty at BA, I am just blessed to have some master teachers working with me—Floyd Elliott in math, Carolyn Dobbins, a reading specialist, and so many more who have stepped in along the way.
One thing we do intentionally every single night is serve a meal. If kids are hungry they can’t learn. Parents, some who don’t have children in the program, bring the meal because they are my stakeholders. They are invested in seeing kids' lives change. We’ve had everything from fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and rolls, to P.F. Changs, and then of course, there's Jet's and Papa John's…for real! The parents are all in. We have a spread! I tell the students, "These parents are serving you; you don't pay a dime for this. They love you. That's why we do what we do."
When we break bread together, we pray and I'm challenging them to pray. In the book of Acts, it says they met house to house; they broke bread together, fellowshipping, and listening to the teachings. We kind of do a mini version of that.
Tutors and kids eat together. They're laughing and chuckling, and then when I hit that bell, "Okay, let's go! It's 6:00. Okay. Clean it up. Let's hit it!” Then they dive right back in again, but we give them a window of time to laugh. You have to let them be youth. It's fun because you kind of get to be a fly on the wall and hear different conversations when tutors are talking to them.
When I arrived here 11 years ago, it was different because I had being doing urban ministry for years. But, I knew that if God opened the door for me to be here, I would fit where he's placed me because he set it up. And if he sent students here, then he knows that the students he planned and purposed to be here would.
And I believe with all my heart that I've been called to teach, and this is the environment where he's postured me to do that.