Zach Ben-Amots: Simmons College in Partnership with Boston Teachers Union Pilot School

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Zach Ben-Amots: Simmons College in Partnership with Boston Teachers Union Pilot School

I am a MACC AmeriCorps VISTA at Simmons College working in partnership with the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) Pilot School, a teacher-run, K-8 school in Jamaica Plain. Both my host site and my community partner are innovative schools that exist on the vanguard of progressive education models. Featuring a women-centered and trans-inclusive undergraduate program, Simmons has a unique mission and student body that sets it apart from other universities and colleges in the nation. By embracing a democratic system without hierarchy, the BTU School has achieved success with a completely distinct governing model.

I have three major responsibilities during my year of service. First, I am establishing a tutoring program from students in grades 3-8, focused on math and literacy. Second, I work closely with the after-school coordinator to ensure a successful pilot year for the YMCA-BTU after-school partnership. Third, I coordinate service learning for Simmons students in classrooms, offices and programs at the BTU School.

The after-school tutoring program has been my top priority this year. All 3rd-5th grade tutoring is provided through a student-led program from Simmons that provides one-on-one mentorship and homework help for 10-12 students, two days per week. For 6th-8th Graders, tutoring has been provided for around 25-30 students, four days per week. Both will be expanded to serve more students with greater frequency, but this has been an highly successful session for each program.

Most of my success is due to the hard work of my VISTA predecessors at Simmons College. Last year’s MACC VISTA at Simmons, Kamilah Reed, set up an institutional partnership between the Hyde Park YMCA and the BTU School. Due to Kamilah’s hard work, 2016-17 is the inaugural academic year for the BTU After-School Clubs Program. I have three responsibilities associated with this program: to seek out an affordable and diverse array of club offerings, to integrate tutoring into the after-school program, and to recruit BTU School students to enroll and participate in clubs.

One of my greatest challenges thus far has been the coordination and placement of 75 service learning students at the BTU School, which has only 20 teachers and 350 students. It was a service learning overload. Somehow, we successfully coordinated all of the students into their areas of interest without placing unnecessary stress on the BTU School faculty and staff.

After maxing out the number of service learners providing classroom and office assistance, I split up students into project-oriented groups. These groups helped create an anti-bullying curriculum for lower grades, a comprehensive survey to improve after-school offerings, fundraising and recruitment strategies for tutoring, and a test preparation tutoring program. Throughout this assignment, I have learned the volunteer capacity at the BTU School and the importance of not exceeding it.

As fall term comes to a close at both my host site and community partner, I have become totally focused on capacity building and sustainability efforts. By the end of my year of service, I hope to achieve the following goals:

3rd-5th Grade Tutoring — The student-led program will expand its efforts to help 20-25 students, four days per week.

6th-8th Grade Tutoring — A structured tutoring program will support 30-40 students, five days per week, while providing financial support to help tutors with the cost of public transportation.

BTU After-School Clubs Program — With a more affordable set of club offerings – along with a year of experience planning, recruiting, communicating, and trouble-shooting the program – the Hyde Park YMCA will commit to extending the BTU School’s high quality of enrichment and education after the final bell rings.

Simmons Service Learning — Multiple Simmons professors will have direct relationships with BTU School faculty, allowing them to coordinate 1-2 service learning courses per term.

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