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May 4, 2015

Students change break room conversations

by Rebekah Phillips

Like many career professionals, Malinda Terry doesn’t always have as much time as she would like to commit to volunteering. But when Malinda and her Charleston County coworkers found out about the opportunity to become volunteer reading partners, they weren’t about to turn their backs on Charleston’s kids.

“We couldn’t commit every day of the week because of our schedules,” she says, “So we asked, ‘What if we could split the students?’”

The Reading Partners team was happy to assign students to a pair or trio of tutors and so far students seem to be doing really well. It’s a win-win, students’ needs are being met and tutors are able to easily fit the tutoring sessions into their weekly schedules..

Malinda and her co-worker, Letty, now “share” a young student named Dezire. This ‘tag-team approach,’ as Malinda calls it, not only gives employees the flexibility they need, but has some unexpected benefits as well.

“It actually worked out really well,” Malinda adds, “now we have these employees that have a common interest in a student. The Tuesday tutor will touch base with the Thursday tutor to go over what they did with the student- to give them a plan. We have employees that have never met before and now they’re talking and corresponding over these students,”

The added communication between tutors allows for more consistency and smoother transitions while moving from one lesson to the next.

Usually, tutors are encouraged to work with the same student twice a week, building a strong mentor/mentee relationship. However, Dezire still feels well connected to her tutors, despite the fact that she only meets with each of them once a week.

Dezire once wrote a letter to Malinda that said,

Dear Ms. Malinda, you are the best reading tutor ever and I aspire to be you one day because you are the best.

The feelings are mutual too. Letty and Malinda knew each other previously, but have formed a different relationship since they started tutoring together, centered on Dezire’s success in reading.

“We joke to see who Dezire loves the best,” says Malinda, “It’s fun. Dezire is a great student and we hope we can stay with her next year.”

The ten employees from Charleston County work with five students at Burns Elementary in North Charleston. They have had a wonderful experience, not only getting to know their students, but also getting to know a little more about each other.

“I thought I knew everyone, but I met employees I had never met before,” says Malinda.

In addition to donating a total of ten volunteer hours each week in the reading center, the employees spend time collaborating outside the reading center to ensure the success of their students. The group has formed a unique bond working together to help students who are behind grade level in reading. Their joined efforts have transformed their relationships.

“We’re a tight group now, and it’s because of these students,” Malinda adds.

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