Community Connections: Marty Kaminsky — Honoring his Father

By Marjorie Olds | Ithaca Times | September 11, 2013

In 1979, Marty Kaminsky landed a teaching job at Central Elementary School (now Beverly J. Martin Elementary) and for the next 30 years he watched lively young people from his classroom grow into adulthood.

As Marty saw more impoverished families turn to schools to be their safety net, he worked longer and longer hours — to see that all kids were given the chance to succeed. Observing that some kids were born into difficult circumstances, Marty noted the correlation between poverty and the percentage of kids who were repeatedly disciplined in school, never graduated from high school and had difficulty getting a job after leaving school.

Marty reached out to parents and kids and tried to link them with whatever programs were supportive. Clocking long hours in his elementary school classrooms, Marty loved his work, but wondered what else he could do for kids who needed so much.

As Marty’s career began winding down, his father life's also was winding down. Marty traveled nearly every weekend to visit his father and, during those long trips, Marty pondered the talks he had just had with his father. Late in Marty’s life, he learned how central charitable work had been for his father.

His dad had quietly arranged free medical services for low-income residents, and taken a leadership role with local organizations. This, Marty realized, was a central part of his father's legacy. His father's stories focused Marty on what legacy he would leave his own children.

“It may seem obvious, but I reflected that what we do in our life is of great importance,” Marty said. “We have such a short time on this earth. I began to think about what my legacy would be.”

In August 2005, Marty’s father passed away. To honor him, Marty approached the principals of the two schools in which he had served. Marty offered them a stipend to pay for two children in each of their schools to have tutoring for one year. He promised the two principals that he would use that school year to develop a tutoring program. When the one-year mark arrived, Marty returned to the two schools. He asked if the tutoring made a difference, and the answer was a resounding “yes.”

In the second year Golden Opportunity — known as “GO!” — was launched. Starting out with four students the first year, the program is now beginning its ninth year with 62 students and 52 tutors in six elementary schools and three middle schools locally. Most of the tutors are retired teachers, but other local folks who know a golden opportunity when they see it, have come on board as well.

Golden Opportunity’s tutors provide support as early as possible in kids’ lives; tutors stay with their students as long as they can. Some pairs have been together now for five years. Some of Marty’s tutors have become part of the student's lives — visiting the family, attending music concerts, and having fun above and beyond the twice a week tutoring sessions.

Each year, Marty gathers data on his pairs; a beginning and end of the year math and reading assessment are done. GO officials also speak two times a year with parents and with the classroom teacher to assess their satisfaction with the program. As the program has become embedded in the lives of kids in local schools classroom teachers and tutors discuss learning goals for their mutual student asking each other: “What does this student need to improve in this subject?”

The data and the first-hand reports document the success of GO’s one-to-one tutoring. As Marty honors his father's legacy of service and support for education, he is taking his program to scale. In the near future GO plans to guide retired teachers in other cities how to run similar programs. Marty is convinced this simple design works to give kids a chance to build a strong foundation for later success. Students and tutors work hard, but have lots of fun together.

Marty's father instilled in him the importance of education and community service. That was his father's legacy. We see the legacy Marty is building with our children in Ithaca and beyond. Marty's father would be proud.

This article originally appeared in a September 2013 issue of the Ithaca Times. You can access the original article here