Meet Joshua Holmes, the Detroit native with a master’s in public administration, a love for all things sports-related, and a special fondness for NYC food culture. When he’s not on his long-standing quest to find the best burgers and beer in the city, you can find him on the sports field. Any sports field will do. “I play softball, racquetball, football, tennis, and basketball. Also golf and snowboarding. I enjoy reading, though I always fear I don’t do it enough.” Prod him a little though, and he’ll admit that his favorite books are pretty diverse – Freakonomics, all seven Harry Potters, Cornel West’s Race Matters, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve also heard from a very reliable source that he’s consistently voted the best dressed at the annual UVa alumni holiday party – perhaps not so hard to believe of a guy who manages to pull off a red plaid bow tie.
The best thing about Joshua, however, is that he spends every Tuesday reading with two very special second graders at P.S. 243 – Rubayet and Trinity (Weird factoid of the day: two of Joshua’s aunts actually attended P.S. 243). Given the recent standards push for nonfiction reading skills, they’ve been working all fall on a slew of animal books, says Joshua. “I’ve gotten a sense of their reading level at this point, so we always start by picking something out that looks really interesting…There’ve been lots of snakes, birds, and birds’ nests,” he adds.
Whether they’re sounding out words, identifying main ideas, or separating fact from opinion, the most exciting part of the process for Joshua has been watching Rubayet and Trinity grow more confident in their reading. “Rubayet was more shy and bashful when we first met, but now sometimes I have a difficult time keeping him on task because he wants to talk about all kinds of things. Trinity is very bubbly and warm. She’s really kind of adorable – like a little cousin.”
If you’re scratching your head and wondering how a public administration guy ended up spending his Tuesdays trekking out to Brooklyn for some tutoring time, we should probably rewind the tape a bit. Prior to moving to New York almost nine years ago, Josh spent a year in an inner-city Detroit school, teaching 7th grade social sciences and a 3rd/4th continuum class. “It was beyond challenging,” he says, “but hands-down the most fun and rewarding experience I’ve had since graduating. Of course, some of the kids would break your heart.”
Joshua is quick to point out that there are some benefits to working with younger students. “They’re definitely more impressionable. They don’t bring as much baggage, they’re not as set in their ways. They’re really more like sponges. When I was teaching I loved hearing the 3rd and 4th graders throwing around polysyllabic SAT words that I knew they had heard in my classroom.”
So beyond the rewards of teaching, what’s his favorite thing about life in NYC? “The extraordinary culinary offerings…the variety of cuisines, everything from high-brow to mobile trucks…in one word, the FOOD. And of course, proximity to family and friends.”
Personally, we think the world would be a much better place if all public policy folks spent a year or two teaching in urban schools and wore bow ties to their holiday parties. But hey, what do we know?