ITHACA, N.Y. — It all started when Marty Kaminsky, a retired fourth-grade teacher at Cayuga Heights Elementary, decided to tutor four students who were struggling in school.
The students’ families couldn’t afford to hire a tutor, so Kaminsky worked with them at no charge. In 2005, he decided to extend the opportunity to other students in the district and started a nonprofit group, Golden Opportunity, to match tutors with students who were falling behind in reading and math.
This year, as Golden Opportunity celebrates its 15th anniversary, the program has grown to 53 tutors working with students from grades two through eight in all the district’s elementary and middle schools. During the school year, the students, who must qualify for free and reduced lunch to be eligible, will receive 4,200 academic support hours, each meeting twice a week with their tutor.
“We are an advocate for each child,” said Elizabeth Einstein, who has been a tutor with Golden Opportunity for 10 years. “We’re friends with them. These kids get to trust us after a while and after they get to know us.”
The tutors meet with their students’ teachers at the beginning of the year to set goals and are in contact with their parents to keep them appraised of their progress. The tutors, who are primarily retired teachers, also bring snacks and learning materials, and often take their students to cultural events in the community.
“The tutors are opening doors for them,” said Marne Honigbaum, who became the third executive director of Golden Opportunity in July. “The children are discovering things they might not otherwise be exposed to.”
All the children in the program, for example, attended the African Cirque Spectacular, an acrobatic show at the State Theatre on Sept. 29, thanks to a donation of 70 tickets from the theatre.
One of Honigbaum’s goals this year is to increase the number of students who are tutored from 70 to 80. She would also like to expand the program into the outlying districts in Tompkins County.
“I would love to do that, but not right away,” she said. “It’s an idea that I’m hoping to develop with the board.”
Another key goal is to strengthen and broaden the organization’s donor base. About 70 percent of the group’s budget is used to pay the tutors an hourly stipend of $23, which only covers the two, one-hour sessions they have with students each week, Honigbaum said.
Community Foundation of Tompkins County has been a longstanding supporter of Golden Opportunity, and over the past two years has provided $7,000 in grants to the organization.
“All of the money that we have received from donors within Community Foundation is huge,” Honigbaum said. “The Community Foundation has a wide reach with its donor base.”
Janet Cotraccia, chief impact officer at Community Foundation, said Golden Opportunity provides much more than tutoring, including mentoring and strengthening family engagement. “Many of the benefits of this tutoring program are in the long-term relationships formed between tutors and students,” she said. “These relationships beautifully match experienced teachers with the curious minds of children, launching them into a lifelong love of learning.”
Featured image provided.