Every week five fabulous tutors from Fordham’s Center for American Catholic Studies arrive at P.S. 73 to mentor a select group of 5th graders in the joys of writing. Together they create projects that encourage community service and academic excellence, including this year’s school newspaper and a book of original poetry. In a feat of educational alchemy, our hip and enthusiastic tutors have managed to make persuasive writing and poetic form the preferred topics of conversation on Friday afternoons. Even better, our tutors’ general awesomeness and the group’s annual field trip to the Fordham campus have inspired our 11-year-olds to set their sights on college.
Last year when we checked in with Jenny Portillo, founder of the Fordham group, she
Last year when we checked in with Jenny Portillo, founder of the Fordham group, she told us that the poetry project had been an ad hoc celebration of National Poetry Month. Looks like things have evolved a bit since then.
Sarah: That’s true – this program has come so far in two years, and we couldn’t be more impressed with the work that these students and tutors were able to accomplish this year!
Was there a lot of demand among students to participate in the program? How did the weekly sessions work?
Sarah: At the beginning of the year 5th grade students filled out applications to be selected for this special project, and for those 25 students who were chosen, it was obviously something they looked forward to every week. Five undergraduate tutors from Fordham traveled to P.S. 73 every Friday all year to coach our kids in their writing and technology skills. The tutors designed the curriculum based on what kind of writing the students wanted to do, and this year they chose poetry and journalism.
Every week they broke into small groups to work on these individual tasks. The poetry students learned about form, style and composition, all while discovering the freedom of expressing themselves creatively. The journalism students talked about the different sections of a newspaper and what it means to be a contributor to each. They talked a lot about persuasive writing, and as you can tell from their columns, we had some very passionate students who loved having the newspaper as a forum to express themselves.
There’s a video floating around the CFK universe that shows a group of P.S. 73 students cheering and chanting on the Fordham football field. We were all so charmed to see 11-year-olds getting psyched for college. Is that part of the thinking behind the program?
Sarah: It has turned into an annual tradition that the students get to take a field trip to the Fordham campus in the spring. That experience is invaluable for our students, and even though I wasn’t with them this year, several of the kids talked to me about how they want to go to Fordham when they grow up and that they are going to work hard in school to make that happen. Whether they decide to go to Fordham in the future or whether they turn their sights elsewhere doesn’t really matter – we want them thinking about their long-term goals as they head into the difficult middle school years. Obviously an impression was made, and we couldn’t ask for more!
It sounds like our favorite Fordham students are actually serving an even more important role than being cool young writing instructors.
Sarah: Even though I only witnessed the culmination of a year’s worth of work, it was obvious to me that the Fordham tutors had become role models and very important mentors in these students’ lives. At the celebratory pizza party, all of the students eagerly begged and pestered their tutors to sign their newspapers and poetry journals, and the tutors in turn wrote wonderful encouragements on every kid’s work.
This has obviously been a hugely important experience for the younger students, but what about the tutors? Have they expressed any interest in going into education as a result of this partnership?
Sarah: Not only are we impacting our fifth graders in meaningful ways, the Fordham tutors also seemed very grateful for this opportunity and clearly cared very deeply about this project. Even in the midst of finals and graduation, the tutors told me they were up until 1am the night before the final party putting the finishing touched on the two publications. That’s dedication and love! In fact, the lead tutor, Jenny Portillo, shifted her entire outlook on her career after this experience. At the outset, Jenny was set on going straight into law school after graduating, but after spending two years with the students at P.S. 73, she has now dedicated herself to teaching. She just moved to Dallas to begin her fellowship with Teach for America, and she is looking at getting a graduate degree in education. (read more about Jenny’s story here)
What’s next on the literacy tutoring agenda? Any chance we’ll be seeing more poetry and newspapers from our partner students?
Sarah: We are very excited to continue this partnership with the students at Fordham, and we are looking forward to taking this model and expanding it to other colleges within our schools.