Golden Opportunity links retired teachers, Ithaca students in need of tutors

By Kyla Pigoni | Ithaca Times | February 23, 2011

Retired school teachers, school officials and community members alike are coming together to tutor students in four Ithaca area schools who need a little extra help in their academics.

The Golden Opportunity program is a not-for-profit tutoring program that offers 60 hours a year of direct one-on-one time to students who need extra help with their school work.

Marty Kaminsky, program director for Golden Opportunity, started the program six years ago after being in the classroom for over 30 years. His goal for starting the tutoring program was to help low income students who, according to national and local statistics, have shown to fair poorly in public schools.

"It's been my experience as an elementary school teacher that no matter how hard you work in a classroom, there is always a population of kids in the class that come in at the the beginning of the year behind the eight ball," he said.

When the program started in 2005, it began with only four students at two schools, Beverly J. Martin and Cayuga Heights. Since, Kaminsky has expanded to include Enfield and Fall Creek with a total of 37 students and 32 tutors. Their big project this year is their integration into Boynton Middle School, where they are offering continued tutoring to students who began the program prior to middle school.

In the end, Kaminsky created a program based around experience. After seeing the results of summer tutoring sessions over the years, he felt that he could make a bigger difference if that summer program was expanded to include a full year, or more.

The program has no administrative overhead, and the directors do not have a salary. All proceeds that are raised for the program is used to help pay tutors.

Students can be referred to the program by their teachers as early as first grade.

"We try to intervene as early as possible," Kaminsky said. "After they start with one tutor, they stay with them for as long as they are in the program."

Kaminsky feels that this tutor-student relationship is what enables the program to be effective and unique.

"Over a period of two hours a week, 60 hours a year, year after year, our tutors make a tremendous bond with these young people," he said. "When these seven and eight year olds become 21 and 22, they're going to remember their tutors in a very deep way."

This relationship is a two-way street between the students and tutors.

"I just got an e-mail about a tutor who took kid and brother to Harlem Globetrotters," Kaminsky said. "The tutors get to know the students. They go above and beyond, and act and do things that, say, a grandparent would do. It's a deep and powerful bond."

Kaminsky attributed community support as one of the key reasons for the success of the program. They are supported by several anonymous foundations and have had great attendance at their fundraisers.

"I'm so delighted," he said. "We've grown tremendously, and this support has knocked my socks off."

When the program began, tutors were referred to Kaminsky from the Ithaca teacher's union. However, as the program has expanded, they have discovered that there simply aren't enough retired teachers to staff the program. It was eventually decided that being a retired teacher wasn't a requirement to tutor.

"The best tutor loves children and can communicate with them," Kaminsky said. "We provide training for individuals that don't have a teaching background. We meet with them twice a year in a workshop setting and give them critical feedback."

Overall, Kaminsky's goal is to turn education around for the students that need the extra help. With the addition of Boynton Middle School, he believes that they will be able to make an even bigger difference in the students' lives, as well as increase the benefits of the program.

"We just need to show them the keys to the castle," he said. "Show them that 'hey, you're smart, you can do this, you're capable, and we're going to show you how to do it.'"

This article originally appeared in a February 2011 issue of the Ithaca Times. You can access the original article here