CSP Team Note: We recently chatted with Emily Gaffney, Executive director of Heart Math Tutoring. If you don’t know this organization, you need to. They’re doing incredible things in our community. Enjoy getting to know Emily, Heart Math Tutoring and find out how you can get involved here!
Tell us how the idea for Heart Math Tutoring was born.
The idea was born from community members at Social Venture Partners (SVP) who felt like volunteer tutors could be better used in the public schools. SVP looked to invest in a nonprofit that was running a structured tutoring program and couldn’t find any in Charlotte at the time! So, volunteers within SVP – including my own mother – stepped up to the plate to create a program.
The school district suggested that the SVP volunteers focus on math because of how much fun volunteers and students can have playing math games that are highly effective for teaching specific skills. Other nonprofits helped advise SVP volunteers along the way – like Communities In Schools and even the national nonprofit Reading Partners, which runs a similar tutoring program focused on literacy.
Those SVP members worked hard to pilot the tutoring program in a handful of schools for several successful years until hiring part-time staff and then a full-time Executive Director (me!) in 2013. We believe the model can work at a widespread scale because of the success of similar literacy programs. We do not know of any other programs like ours in the nation that focus on math!
What is its mission?
Heart Tutoring’s mission is to ensure that all elementary students develop a strong foundation in math and enthusiasm for academics needed for long-term success, by helping schools use volunteers as tutors. Community members commit one hour per week to deliver an effective, hands-on curriculum through one-on-one tutoring sessions during the school day in high-poverty elementary schools with on-site support.
Tell us a little bit about your background and your current role at Heart Math Tutoring.
I am a long-time volunteer tutor – starting in middle school and continuing through high school, college, and even during the two years I was in Wells Fargo’s investment banking analyst program! My parents and church here in Charlotte have been role models in volunteerism and philanthropy since I was young, and I had a lot of support and encouragement when I switched into the education sector to join Teach For America in 2010. I tried my hand at teaching sixth-grade math, and I learned a ton working at a startup charter school in San Jose, CA. One thing I learned is that students who start kindergarten behind need help beyond herculean teachers to catch up and be successful in later years.
I know one-on-one attention can be a game-changer for a student who is behind AND that volunteers working as tutors can make that difference. I believe volunteer time is one of the only resources available to public schools that is not currently being leveraged, and I love asking friends and community members to make this kind of impact.
My current role is Executive Director. When I started in 2013, I was an Executive Director paired with Program Coordinator responsibilities; we had a team of 1.5 people! 2019/20 will be my seventh school year with the program, and I love getting to work with our growing team (31 people!) and board.
How has the education landscaped changed in Charlotte since the organization started?
There are so many more tutors and options for tutoring now! I believe that in some ways, Heart tutors have been a proof point that the community is willing to help! Since 2014, CMS developed North Star Reading Partners, which had over 1,500 volunteers at one point. Read Charlotte has developed some great literacy tutoring programs, as well, like HELPS Fluency and others. Alison Hauser began leading Augustine Literacy Project around the same time I joined Heart Tutoring, and we have enjoyed comparing notes along the way as our programs have grown together.
On a less positive note, the number of schools with high concentrations of poverty in the student base has grown over the past six years. Also, while Charlotte is one of the top-scoring large urban school districts in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the percentage of CMS 4th graders who are performing at their grade level in 4th-grade math declined to 49% in the most recent testing year (2017).
Tell us about the impact you’ve had on the community.
At Heart Tutoring, we measure students’ progress! Every student takes a pre- and post-assessment so that we can measure math growth from the beginning to the end of the year. 98% of Heart students have met program growth goals on those assessments. Goals were set with guidance from UNC Charlotte and CMS elementary math specialists.
We also want the program to have an impact on our student confidence and enthusiasm for academics. Last year, 92% of teachers said their students’ confidence towards math increased as a result of the program. While teachers and principals would not invite us into their buildings if we were not moving the dial on math scores, we often hear them talk most about the value of the one-on-one relationships volunteers build with students.
When you are a volunteer tutor, you see the need (many students are very behind) but also how quickly students can catch up with one-on-one attention and encouragement. Over 3,400 Charlotte children have had a Heart tutor’s attention and encouragement, to date! In 2018/19 alone, Heart Tutoring volunteers gave 17,000 hours of one-on-one instruction to CMS elementary students that would not have existed otherwise!
How many schools and students do you currently serve?
In 2019/20, we are partnering with 23 CMS elementary schools, equating to around 1,150 students! Most of our students are performing 2-3 years below their grade level in math, and most qualify as “economically disadvantaged”. Students are nominated by their teachers and school administrators and will receive tutoring from early October to the beginning of May.
What does a typical math session look like?
At the beginning of a session, a tutor will check his/her student’s progress log folder to find out what page to start on that day. Tutors skim the upcoming lesson and gather materials (cubes, bowls, cards) before picking up their students from class and bringing them back to the tutoring room. The Heart Program Coordinator is in the tutoring room observing and can help with everything from school logistics to math! During the session, tutors will work through the scripted, hands-on activities at the student’s pace. These games might involve hiding cubes, building trains, “racing” to 100, etc.; the games are effective because they are at the student’s level and target specific learning gaps (because of the pre-assessment).
After 30 minutes, the tutor and student will put away the cubes/books and the tutor will take the student back to class! If a tutor stays for a full hour, he/she will pick up another student and repeat the process for another 30-minute session. Tutors take some notes in the progress log folder before leaving and come back the next week!
Do you have to be a math whiz to volunteer?
No, you definitely do not! Our curriculum covers kindergarten through 3rd-grade math concepts and it is designed to be easy to use with scripted, game-based lessons. If you can count and are willing to read/follow our lesson plans, you can be a Heart tutor.
Do volunteers stay with one student or do they work with many?
Volunteers work with the same one or two students for the whole year! The relationship and the teamwork/growth is one of the most fun pieces of the program! If you volunteer for 30 minutes, you tutor one student, and if you volunteer for 1 hour, you tutor two students for 30 minutes each (back to back). We tell our volunteers that their role is 50% tutor and 50% mentor. It is so impactful for our students to have a caring adult show up at their classroom consistently every week to see them.
What are the requirements for volunteers (ie time commitment, age, education, etc)?
We ask tutors to commit 30 minutes or 1 hour per week from late September through early May (20-25 weeks). We are built for busy schedules; 70% of our volunteers are also carrying full-time jobs, so we are serious about this feasible and flexible within a busy schedule. You do have to be at least 18 years of age and not a CMS student, according to CMS policy. Every volunteer must pass a CMS background check that we will help you fill out online. There are no education or previous experience requirements. Heart provides a 45-minute orientation training session for tutors during the week of September 30th, right before tutoring begins.
What is your vision for Heart Tutoring’s future?
We would love to see our program in operation throughout the CMS district, increasing school partnerships through the next 3-5 years. We also believe our model would work in other geographies and are exploring how we could pilot another location in the next few years.
Where do we sign up?
PLEASE DO sign up, at https://hearttutoring.org/become-a-volunteer/! You can choose your time, location, day, and any other preferences there.
How can we donate if we aren’t quite ready to volunteer?
Yes, we would be very grateful for your donations as we rely on philanthropy for 85% of our budget. Donate online at https://hearttutoring.org/donate/ or mail checks payable to “Heart Math Tutoring” to PO Box 30623, Charlotte, NC 28230.