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February 19, 2015

Isa's story: I was one of those kids

Every phone interview with a potential Reading Partners tutor starts with some simple questions: “what’s your schedule like,” “how did you hear about us,” “which school are you most interested in…” But one question always stands out, “Why do you want to work with Reading Partners?” Some answers are short, some are long, but each tutor has a unique point of view when it comes to their motivation to volunteer.

Prospective tutor Isa Waduud’s response won’t soon be forgotten. He said, “You know, I was one of those kids too.”

Growing up in Poverty

Isa’s humility reflects his upbringing and the challenges he encountered at a young age. The oldest of five siblings, Isa was raised by a single mother in Brooklyn’s low-income housing projects. His mother placed a high priority on education, and Isa grew up inquisitive and eager to learn. However, he felt out of place at school and struggled with his studies.

In retrospect, Isa realizes that what he needed as a kid was a tutor. “Someone who could take the time out who was comfortable with me… and I could tell them what I was thinking.”

Isa acknowledges the dynamics that children may face in a low-income community. “It creates obstacles for learning,” he says. “There’s no better person to tell them what’s around the corner than the people that have been there.”

Sometimes a tutor, just by giving a kid attention, can open up some doors and create dreams.

Building Tutor/Tutee Relationships

Isa believes that the one-on-one model is an effective way to make a lasting impact on students struggling with reading skills. “If a [student is]in a class with several children, he can easily get lost. But with one-on-one contact…you can potentially save a life.”

Isa is able to provide the individualized attention he advocates for to the two students he works with at Mary Ford Elementary School in North Charleston. He says that they remind him of the child he used to be. And while relationships are still being formed between Isa and his two students, Isa feels confident that both students are well on their way to narrowing their literacy achievement gaps. “I’m learning how to be a better tutor myself,” and “I tell [them] all the time, ‘you know, you’re smart.’”

“Tutoring is more than just making sure a child can pronounce words or adhere to the rules of grammar,” says Isa.

You start to teach a child about the concept of team work, of trust, and trying. Tutoring is a beautiful thing if the person has a mind to do it.

Isa knows he is a part of something special at Reading Partners: “I put my heart into it. I see young men and young women who were never given the confidence [to succeed in school]; I just want to be a part of the solution.”

With tutors like Isa who exude passion, dedication and motivation, we are on our way to changing, not only a child’s life, but the face of an entire community.

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