An Educational Helping Hand

Non-profits are helping East Side students get ahead

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

It can be easy to believe that we’re divided into educational “haves” – those who attend one of the East Side’s independent schools – and “have nots” – those who attend one of our neighborhood’s four public schools. Socioeconomic and other data seem to support such beliefs. Our public schools educate students who are often economically and otherwise disadvantaged, while private educational institutions instruct students who frequently benefit from abundant resources. These distinctions often present acute challenges to all who want to work across differences for equity. Privilege, race, language, financial status, culture, age, health and other dissimilarities tend to get in the way, especially when the have nots appear to present problems and the haves appears to offer solutions. While better than isolation, superficial contact with benefits flowing only from the haves to the have nots doesn’t produce the sort of mutual understanding needed to create authentic and enduring change across schools and society.

Brown University’s Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service offers approaches to community engagement that seek to make more meaningful differences. Hope High School is one of the Swearer Center’s many school partners, with a decade-long collaboration that matches 70 Brown undergraduate volunteers with more than 300 Hope students for after school tutoring and credit recovery in math and science. Brown students also provide support to teachers in 22 math and science classrooms at Hope, offer an SAT prep class, conduct college advising and more. Students at Hope and seven other Providence high schools form relationships with tutors from Brown who are invested both in their ability to factor quadratic equations and their aspirations beyond high school.

Beyond Hope, approximately 640 Brown undergraduate students work in various Providence-area communities. About 420 are involved with education as teachers or tutors, reaching more than 5,000 students in 17 elementary, middle and high schools. These numbers, while impressive, don’t indicate the effect of the relationships that develop among those many people. Mathew Johnson, the newly appointed director of the Swearer Center, emphasizes the learning situations are structured to support the development of reciprocal relationships. Such relationships, in which all involved are both learners and teachers, are key to creating real understanding and change within students, Brown student volunteers, other members of the school community, and, ultimately, each educational institution. “Expertise and knowledge is found most often in communities, so Brown students need to listen more than they need to act,” Johnson noted. “If we don’t listen and think before we attempt to interact and teach, we’re not good stewards of resources or good partners.”

The East Side is also home to Breakthrough Providence, another education nonprofit based on reciprocal partnership. Housed at and supported in part by the Wheeler School, Breakthrough Providence has a dual mission: to create pathways to college for academically motivated low-income middle school students in the Providence Public Schools, and to encourage high school and college students to pursue careers in education. Part of the national Breakthrough Collaborative, Breakthrough Providence offers 80 seventh and eighth graders a two-year program focused intensely on academic, social-emotional and other skills. These students meet in a full-day program for six weeks during the summer and in afterschool and one-on-one tutoring sessions throughout the school year. Breakthrough Providence continues its work beyond middle school, collaborating with College Visions to offer biannual conferences to provide ninth through twelfth grade students with information and guidance as they navigate the college process as low-income, first-generation college-bound students. Breakthrough Providence also supports students’ path to higher education through an effort that includes a new partnership with the Swearer Center in which Brown students offer SAT tutoring to Breakthrough Providence students.

Local high school and college students interested in gaining pre-professional teaching experience serve as instructors. These students are from a range of high schools and colleges, and represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Breakthrough Providence executive director Dulari Tahbildar shared that 15% of the program’s 60 instructors are former middle school participants, and that 60% of the teachers are people of color. The program hopes that the impact on its students-turned-teachers will not only transform their interest into teaching careers but also transform the career of teaching itself. “We’re working toward a vision of a statewide teacher pipeline,” Tahbildar notes. “By building the demand side among students, we want to encourage more of them – especially more students of color and more men – to choose careers as teachers.” In Tahbildar’s vision, Rhode Island’s teacher education programs would respond to an energized and experienced cohort of young people who see teaching as a path to social justice and equity.

The Swearer Center’s education-related programs and Breakthrough Collaborative’s work both center on people connecting with each other across differences to find a common joy and purpose in teaching and learning. They help create a world in which we all have something to teach and something to learn.

Smart News

Hope High Dollars for Scholars Annual Awards Dinner
Hope High School Dollars for Scholars (HHDfS), a non-profit tax-exempt scholarship foundation operated by an all-volunteer Board of Directors comprised of alumni and friends of Hope, offers an opportunity for you to invest in our neighborhood public high school’s graduates as they continue their educational journeys. HHDfS will be holding its third annual awards dinner on Monday, May 16 at 5pm at RI Shriners Imperial Room at 1 Rhodes Place in Cranston. HHDfS’s scholarships make it possible for talented, hardworking Hope High School students to attend college, a goal that would for most be impossible without this financial support. Tickets are $40 and proceeds will go towards future scholarships. To find out more, please visit Christina Ricci, HHDfS Fundraising Chair, at

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Support International Charter School’s Azores Student Trip
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education, school, teacher, east side