All year long, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy. We’ve hosted birthday parties at nine public schools, and last spring, held our own grand celebration honoring tutor Mark Friedman (pictured with his tutee, Adam), an extraordinary leader in both GBJCL and JCRC. Last night, we wrapped up the festivities by honoring those at the heart of the program, our volunteers.
Joined by MA Rep. Denise Garlick (Needham, top right photo) and noted author Susan E. Goodman (bottom left photo), we were thrilled to welcome 85 of our literacy volunteers and school partners. Since the inception of the program, GBJCL volunteers have distinguished themselves as real literacy heroes. Every week of the school year – and in some cases, for the full 20 years of the program’s existence – these volunteers show up with teams from their synagogues or workplaces at public schools throughout Greater Boston, to help kids develop tools for success.
Among those we honored was Cindy Lutch, a team leader from Temple Israel, Natick, serving at the Hemenway School in Framingham (left photo, on right, with Pam Weil, a GBJCL team leader from Temple Emanuel, Newton). During her decade of service, Cindy has had the opportunity to work with dozens of students and partnered with multiple teachers to develop a nurturing learning environment. Among those she tutored, one young man in particular stood out. After spending many weeks together, she noticed he was having trouble reading his school work. She brought this to the attention of his teacher, and together, they discovered that the student needed glasses. After he got glasses, he sometimes needed help remembering to bring them to school. Cindy would remind him each week, supporting the student to become a better reader over the year. Cindy’s special relationship with this student and his teacher helped him to grow and thrive.
After years of tutoring, Cindy developed a model for providing closure to her students at the end of the year. Cindy takes a photo of the child and they each take a copy home. GBJCL values closure rituals between student and tutor so they can reflect on their accomplishments and express their feelings about the transition. Cindy’s innovation has now been integrated as a best practice that GBJCL recommends to all tutors. Cindy’s enduring her commitment led her to choose her successor carefully and since then, the Temple Israel team has expanded and become even more robust.
We thank Cindy for her leadership and her continued partnership with JCRC as the program grows. Her commitment to making literacy accessible to students is an inspiration to all of us and exemplifies the connection between Jewish communities and public schools that the founders of GBJCL, including Leonard Fein, envisioned.
As one of those founders, Hans Strauch (see photo), said last night: “GBJCL mobilizes the Jewish community to volunteer and help elementary school children discover the joy of reading and meet their learning goals. To see it flourish and grow is truly amazing and gratifying. GBJCL volunteers are making a tremendous positive difference every day in the life and welfare of the communities it serves. That is why we continue to support this vital program every year.”
Over the past 20 years, GBCJL has impacted nearly 10,000 students and our tutors have read over 36,000 books with these students in our public schools. This is a value of over $200,000 in volunteer hours. More than ever, it is important to continue championing our local schools, supporting the development of young people, and paving the way for them to access the opportunities our country has to offer. With the commitment of our exceptional volunteers and the support of our community, we can only imagine what we’ll be able to achieve in the next 20 years! (Volunteer pictured here at the event with a "We 'heart' our volunteers" bag filled with donated books to bring to her tutees.)
As summer ends and a new year of learning begins, school staff throughout Greater Boston are working feverishly to prepare for their students’ arrival. Here at JCRC, our nearly 300 Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) volunteers are also gearing up to return to their partner schools. To mark this “back-to-school” moment, I’d like to share a glimpse inside one of our 25 GBJCL schools, The Arnone Community School of Brockton, a part of our program for nearly a decade, through their partnership with an incredible team of volunteers from Temples Beth Emunah and Chayai Shalom of Easton.
The Arnone’s Principal Colleen Proudler (left) was recently featured at our annual JCRC Celebrates fundraiser, where we celebrated GBJCL’s 20th anniversary and honored the work of our partners. In Principal Proudler’s remarks, she revealed compelling insights about her school, the realities of her students’ lives, and the impact of our program on her community. A large urban school, the Arnone’s students face daunting challenges: 65% are economically disadvantaged, 92% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 75% are high-needs, and more than 3% of these students are dealing with homelessness.
Principals like Proudler understand that a quality education requires depth of relationships in addition to skill building. As she told us,
… Literacy skills are a key component to a successful future and, all too frequently, these high-risk students lag well behind their peers. I could speak to you for hours about the research that demonstrates the need for explicit vocabulary instruction or the number of minutes a child should spend reading each day to become fluent. But nothing sparks a love of reading in a child better than sharing a book with a caring adult. The [GBJCL] tutors working at Arnone nurture that love of reading each and every day.
Remarkably, Principal Proudler takes the time to get to know each of the GBJCL tutors personally. She observed a particularly telling interaction between one tutor and his student.
Seymour Newberger was a ninety-one-year-old retired engineer who tutored at the Arnone for several years. Typically tutors work one or two hours a week, but Mr. Newberger worked all day, every day… I would frequently find him building bridges with the third graders in a classroom or working with small groups of fifth graders in the science lab.
One day, I observed a fifth-grade girl arguing with him... She walked away from him in a huff and as I was walking over to intervene, he called over his shoulder, “…Fine, leave. But your answer is still wrong!” The girl stopped dead in her tracks. She turned around, marched back over to the table, and sat right down. He calmly picked up a pencil and began to reteach the problem. After she left, I asked him how he knew she would come back. He told me she was a very good mathematician, but made careless errors and got angry when they were pointed out to her. He also knew that her ego would never let her walk away from a problem without the correct answer.
That student has since graduated from the Arnone, but I am certain that she will never forget how Mr. Newberger pushed her to never settle for anything less than her best effort. Mr. Newberger passed away last year and he is sorely missed at the Arnone. His spirit of service, dedication, and commitment embody the essence of GBJCL and what makes it so special to the Arnone.
Today, volunteer support is even more critical to schools like the Arnone. Facing a $10 million school budget deficit and the prospect of classes as large as 30 students, essential services for students in Brockton are in serious jeopardy. As she struggles to respond to this crisis, Principal Proudler expressed her relief that through GBJCL, she can count on her students to continue benefiting from small group instruction and personalized attention.
We are privileged to support schools like the Arnone, where committed volunteers like Mr. Newberger have real impact as they help students carve out their path in life. If you are interested in joining our cadre of GBJCL volunteers, registration is now open for the 2017-2018 school year for either tutoring weekly or time-limited special projects. No educational background is needed, just a desire to help and time to serve.
I look forward to celebrating another successful year together with GBJCL and all of our partners.
Director, Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy
As we celebrate the twentieth year of the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy, we also celebrate the values that inspire our work. Values such as:
Tikvah – creating hope, including for youth and their future.
Tzelem Elohim – believing that all our children are created equally in the divine image, and;
Areyvut – our sense of mutual responsibility, including to all our neighbors’ children.
These values have inspired us to connect volunteer tutors to kids, and they inspire all the work that we at JCRC are proud to do every day.
They inform the three abiding imperatives that drive our commitment to the relationship building, partnerships and advocacy that define community relations work:
- We believe in the promise of America, in the hope and potential of our nation, despite our challenges, and in the idea that our nation is at its best when we are creating opportunity and equality for all who live here.
- We believe in the national hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people, in our collective future and the contributions we have made and will make to the world. And those aspirations include a vibrant future for the state of the Jewish people, Israel.
- And we believe that, despite whatever differences we have within our own community, we have to work together; because we cannot achieve our hopes alone. And, we have to work in the public square of civil society to build support for our priorities and our shared values.
This is why JCRC, as a broad network including 42 organizations, partnering with synagogues, rabbis and community leaders, each leading in their own way reflecting their unique skills and passions – comes together as one community, working for the brightest possible future, including for our own children and the children of our neighbors.
Clockwise from top left: JCRC Celebrates Honoree Mark Friedman with Barry Shrage, CJP President; Mark’s tutee, Ohrenberger School 4th grader Adam, speaks at JCRC Celebrates; JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton; Event Chair and Co-Chair Stacey Bloom (left) and Debbie Isaacson
Because every child has the potential to contribute to the strength of our nation. That is why earlier this year we brought together seventeen of the most influential Jewish organizations in Boston to say that we must keep our doors open to immigrants and refugees, and that we will protect and support our neighbors regardless of their immigration status.
Because every child, every girl - and boys too - should know that if they study hard and work an honest day they’ll be treated fairly. That is why we worked to pass the Equal Pay Law last summer.
Because every child should be able to go to their synagogue, their mosque or to a JCC without fear. That is why we advocate that our government provide the resources necessary to ensure the safety and security of non-profit institutions.
Because every child should be able to follow their passions – sports, arts, whatever - and be able to go to public venues knowing that they will be welcome. That is why we fought to pass the Transgender Public Accommodation Law and we will defend it if challenged on the ballot next year.
And because the children of Israel should have a future of peace in a Jewish and democratic state. They should be able to live in co-existence with their neighbors, and with the security that all people deserve.
That is why we engage civic and religious leaders in support of Israel. Over the past five years we’ve taken over fifty Christian clergy and civic leaders and fully one-third of the Massachusetts legislature to Israel to deepen their appreciation of the Israel we love and the people we believe in.
That is why we work to prevent the demonization of Israel in Boston and around the world. And it is why we build support for Israelis and Palestinians who are coming together on the ground to create the conditions for a future of two-states living side by side in peace.
We do all this rooted in the same values that inspire us to reach out to young adults, to synagogues, to student groups and others, inviting them to do service – in soup kitchens and youth programs, with seniors and with kids needing tutoring.
Because every child deserves a quality education and the chance to acquire the skills needed for success. And we believe it is our responsibility to help those children realize their dreams. That is why, twenty years ago, with the leadership of so many of you, JCRC established the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and it is why we are so proud to celebrate this and all of our work.
Thank you to all of you for your partnership. You make this work possible.
And thank you for allowing JCRC to be an effective vehicle to offer an inspiring vision of our Jewish community’s values in the public square every single day.
This coming Wednesday, JCRC will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL). As we honor some very special leaders who helped us reach this momentous occasion, we also reflect on the thousands of community members who’ve made such a difference in children’s lives through this initiative.
The GBJCL team leaders are largely unsung heroes within our volunteer pool. These hardworking and dedicated volunteers are at the nexus of relationships between each synagogue and its partner school. They go above and beyond to cultivate the partnerships, laying the groundwork for fulfilling volunteer experiences for all of our tutors.
Two of their stories:
For seventeen years, Joan Beer of Temple Emanuel in Newton has been a volunteer and GBJCL team leader. In that capacity, Joan has worked closely with school liaison Joan Dill at the Beethoven-Ohrenberger School in Boston, to match over 30 tutors with young students. In addition to ensuring that each tutor is supported in providing ongoing individual attention to their students, “the Joans” launched the school’s first book club, spurring spirited conversations about each special book selection, and inspiring the love of reading.
“What brought me to tutoring was a basic love of children. I always wanted to be a teacher,” Joan Beer said. “Just knowing you can have an impact on one person by assisting them and taking an interest in them I think is very important.” Communications Joan receives from former students confirm the positive and enduring influence she has had on them. One former student recently wrote:
“I hope the year has been treating you well. I am now in my sophomore year at Boston Latin Academy and when looking back, you are one of the people that has brought me to where I am now.”
Joan will be stepping down as team leader at the end of this year. Her dedication and commitment to the school, the students, and GBJCL has inspired a new generation of team leaders who not only feel compelled to give back to their community through service but have the energy and passion to inspire their peers to do the same.
One of these up and coming team leaders is Liza Hadley, who began tutoring while an intern at the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish. Their team uses their lunch hour to volunteer one on one with students at the Condon School in South Boston. Liza was so impacted by the experience that she decided to work with us to bring the program to her community at Boston University Law School.
Liza has strong ties to Boston through her grandparents who immigrated here after surviving the Holocaust. Liza reflects that “a lot of things hit home” for her as she considered her involvement in the program. Her grandparents instilled in her a love of reading as well as a deep appreciation for education, since they themselves were denied that opportunity. Through GBJCL, Liza is able to ensure that their legacy lives on.
The next chapter of Liza’s involvement in GBJCL has just begun. Liza has engaged the Jewish Law Students Association, the Women's Law Association, and the Public Interest Project at Boston University to begin mobilizing volunteers. GBJCL has paired them up with the Curley School in Jamaica Plain and with second grade teacher Emily Beck. Liza and Emily will be working closely together over the next several months and aim to have a team of volunteers with Liza leading the way for next year.
GBJCL embodies a Jewish tradition of taking responsibility mi dor l’dor, from one generation to the next – volunteers passing on reading skills to students, and volunteers passing on leadership to volunteers - like links in a chain, becoming stronger as we move forward. The expertise and commitment of those who have gone before have laid a strong foundation, one which will continue to flourish in the years ahead.
As we begin the next 20 years for GBJCL, we are grateful to the new generation of team leaders who are stepping up not only to ensure the continued vitality of our program, but also to collaborate with us to expand our model and extend this unique opportunity to more volunteers. To reach community members interested in volunteering who may not be able to commit to a full year of service, we are now partnering with universities, corporations and other non-profits to design new models of tutoring.
I hope you will join us on Wednesday, May 24th at JCRC Celebrates to learn more about our incredible volunteers and to honor one special volunteer, Mark Friedman, whose dedication and commitment knows no bounds. With your support, we can engage more leaders like Joan, Liza, and Mark to make an impact on our community.
On the eve of Passover, when we share our national story and reenact our journey, I share with you the story of one of our literacy volunteers and the deep connections she has fostered with her students through their shared life journeys.
In May of 1960, Marion Bank was 13 and living in Chile when she experienced the largest recorded seismic event to date. What became known as the Great Chilean Earthquake had devastating effects all over Chile, and continued to have ripple effects from Japan and the Philippines to Alaska. This experience left a lasting impact on Marion - one she would share over 55 years later with a group of fourth graders at the Stapleton Elementary School in Framingham, where – as part of a team from Temple Beth Sholom, Framingham - she tutors with the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL).
Marion currently works in the fourth grade science class on Wednesday mornings. On this particular day, the students were learning about earthquakes and Marion was able to make the concept come alive with her story of trauma and survival from her childhood. The room lit up. The students asked questions: “What did you do?” “Were you scared?” “Did you have nightmares after that?” The lesson became much more than a routine science class and the students were able to understand the very real impact of earthquakes in a new way.
Marion, like many of our GBJCL students, immigrated to America when she was young. Her parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939. They got on a ship -not knowing where it was headed - and ended up in Chile. Almost a quarter century later, having survived the Nazi era, Marion’s family decided to move to America.
Marion’s connection to the immigrant experiences of others is a deeply personal one. As a tutor at Stapleton, she is able to connect with students who are new to this county and who are adjusting to a new life in a new place. One young boy joined the Stapleton class shortly after he and his family emigrated from Brazil. He was very shy about using English and did not feel confident writing when asked. Marion worked closely with him, engaging him in conversation about what he wanted to learn. She would then write down his answers and share it with the teacher.
That experience gave this student more assurance and, by the end of the year, he was a full participant in the class. Marion’s own experience of being a stranger in a new land allowed her to lend the support needed to build her young friend’s confidence as a capable student and an English speaker.
After learning Marion’s story about her family’s journey to Chile and then America, Lianne Manzella, the 4th grade science teacher, decided to design her immigration unit around Marion’s experience later this spring. Once again, the students will have the opportunity to learn from Marion’s first-hand experience. They’ll have the opportunity to understand her unique perspective as an immigrant and just maybe, to share their own immigration stories.
As we continue our GBJCL20 celebration, we are sharing stories that celebrate the impact the program has had on students and volunteer tutors. Our tutors are as diverse as the students we work with, coming from different backgrounds and bringing a variety of experiences with them to the program. Join us in celebrating the 20th anniversary of our literacy volunteer program as JCRC Celebrates on May 24th.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Passover,
Reading and education are essential to Jewish identity and to our perseverance as a people; they are the vehicles for transmitting our tradition and living a Jewish life. As Jews of the Diaspora, we understand that the gifts of education, knowledge and reasoning were - and still are - key to our survival. For centuries, we faced discrimination and worse. Shut out of many schools and locked out of educational opportunities, we built our own. Within our own communities, often segregated from the rest of society, we educated ourselves and our children. Now, generations later, we continue to value knowledge as power, and as a means to ensuring the vibrancy and future of our people.
Recognizing that education provides access to opportunity, President Clinton embarked on an initiative over two decades ago, called America Reads. He outlined a simple but audacious plan, issuing the call to recruit one million volunteer tutors from across the country to help students learn to read by the end of third grade. Legendary social justice pioneer Leonard (Leibel) Fein, z”l jumped at the opportunity to engage the Jewish community. The intellectual architect of liberal Jewish engagement over the past many decades, Fein was a prolific writer and thought leader for the burgeoning Jewish social justice movement. His writings appeared regularly in The Forward and Moment Magazine, which he co-founded. But Fein’s work transcended the theoretical; his passion demanded that Jews act on our values in the world. He founded Mazon, a non-profit that has raised millions of dollars from the Jewish community to combat hunger.
Fein seized on Clinton’s initiative as an opportunity to mobilize the Jewish community in acting on our most cherished value; igniting the love of reading and learning. With no plan, and not a single volunteer on board, he impulsively promised to deliver the first 10,000 tutors from the Jewish community. In 1997 he approached my predecessor, Nancy Kaufman, with a bold proposal; for JCRC to be the pilot for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, recruiting Boston’s primarily suburban Jews in tutoring weekly in high need urban elementary schools. Nancy sprang into action and the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) was born. Our program grew quickly, as JCRC identified leaders at area synagogues to recruit teams of volunteers within their community to work with young students throughout Greater Boston. Twenty years later, we are honored to carry on the legacy of these Jewish social justice giants and to fulfill our commitment to education as we enrich the lives of our Commonwealth’s children.
Today GBJCL continues to be a powerful vehicle; providing needed services to students and meaningful experiences to our community members, as we serve some 500 students each week of the school year, in 24 schools throughout Greater Boston. The service of our 322 volunteers extends way beyond their required weekly sessions with their assigned students. Our tutors support the whole school community in multiple ways including helping with science and book fairs, doing “read-alouds” and organizing book drives.
As we reach GBJCL’s 20th birthday, I am excited to let you know about JCRC’s year-long celebration to mark the program’s achievements and ensure its robust future. In the coming months, we will be sharing stories of the volunteers and students whose lives have been transformed through this remarkable program. We will also be hosting opportunities throughout the school year to recognize our partnerships, honor our volunteers and thank our supporters. And, we will celebrate GBJCL20 at JCRC Celebrates this spring (save the date for May 24th!)
And, if you want to experience GBJCL firsthand, visit our website for information about volunteering or setting up a team at your synagogue or company.
Wishing you a 2017 filled with the joy of reading!