Math Tutoring with Heart

By Eren Simpson


A Charlotte nonprofit is helping to bolster area math scores 30 minutes at a time, with a whole lot of heart and help from volunteer tutors.

Heart Math Tutoring was built from a partnership between Social Venture Partners (SVP) Charlotte, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Communities in Schools, after identifying a need for willing volunteers to help struggling students after rigorous testing standards were introduced in 2013.

In 2017, 56 percent of economically disadvantaged students in CMS scored below grade level in third- through eighth-grade math. Without these basic math skills, students struggle to meet graduation requirements in high school and face economic hardships later in life.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Emily Elliot, the organization has grown to serve more than 1,400 students in grades one through five in 17 schools, with more than 980 weekly volunteer tutors and more than $840,000 in support from the community in just five years. For the 2018-19 school year, Heart will be in at least 20 schools across CMS’ footprint and need the help of about 1,300 weekly tutors.

“We have good (volunteer) retention rates,” Elliot said. “Ninety percent of people who start at the beginning of the year finish the year, and 60 percent stay from one year to the next.”

Telia Williams, a financial analyst, was introduced to the organization through a coworker and has been a volunteer with Heart for three years.
“With 30-minute sessions, it fits in well with my work and personal schedule,” Williams said. “My job allows us set aside time to volunteer during the week, so this is perfect.”

Elliot says Heart prides itself on creating a positive experience for the tutor and the student.

The organization is modeled so that each school has a part-time Heart program coordinator (hired and paid for by Heart), to give students the help they need and make sure each tutoring session runs smoothly.

Elliot said most students require at least two years of tutoring to get ahead, but some get ahead after just one.

In the last five years, more than 1,400 Heart students have met program growth targets in math, and more than 90 percent of teachers report students are more confident and enthusiastic toward academics as a result of the program.

Students are recruited based on school staff recommendations, then assessed by Heart program coordinators to determine their conceptual gaps. Volunteers provide instruction at each student’s level in the form of 30-minute tutoring sessions, twice each week during the school day.

But Heart isn’t just about increasing math scores; it’s also about building relationships with the kids it serves.

“Half the job of volunteers is the math curriculum, and the other half is being a positive influence,” Elliot said. “You’re forming a partnership to get students to the next level. Rich relationships are being formed.”

Williams has experienced that partnership firsthand.

“The most surprising and meaningful thing to me is knowing my child [the child I tutor ] really wants me there and looks forward to me coming to help her,” Williams said. “At the end of each year, she and her mom always ask if I will come back and help. It really means a lot that they appreciate my help and that only 30 minutes out of my day is making a noticeable change in my student’s academics.”

Elliot and Williams both stressed that a passion for helping, not math, is all that’s required to get started with Heart.

“It’s flexible, it’s impactful, we give you everything you need, the curriculum and the support,” Elliot said. “This is an effective way to help. It takes some commitment, but it’s manageable.”

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