Through Teaching Others
By Jessie Fredlund ’07
When she arrived at Smith,
Elizabeth Mehr ’08 knew
where she was headed. She would major in neuroscience and
seek a career in a related field.
But everything changed when Mehr signed up through Service
Organizations of Smith (S.O.S.) to volunteer at the Gerena
Magnet School, an elementary school in the North end of nearby
Largely because of her weekly experience working as a tutor
with the Gerena school students, Mehr changed plans for her
major, still pursuing her interest in psychology, but now
with an emphasis on child development. She also began a minor
“At first, I wasn’t interested in education,” Mehr says. “Now,
my career goals are to work in education policy trying to work towards educational
equality in the public schools.”
Doug Winsor, partnership and outreach coordinator in the
Office of Educational Outreach, oversees the Gerena tutoring
program, now in its fifth year. The partnership with Gerena
School began with when Lucy Mule, assistant professor of
education and child study, and Sam Intrator, associate professor
of education and child study, decided their students would
benefit from observing urban education firsthand. A deeper
partnership quickly emerged.
“We were so impressed by what we saw going on at the
school,” said Gail Scordilis, director of educational
outreach. “There was just tremendous enthusiasm and
energy. The arts and the music programs within the school
Among other interactions with the school, Smith began encouraging
students to tutor Gerena students in math and reading after
Now, Smith tutors spend some time helping kids on these
subjects, but also dedicate time each week to enrichment
programs of their own design. This gives Smithies a chance
to share their knowledge and passion in their favorite subjects
with younger students.
One group of Smith students brought classics studies to
Gerena. In a school that is 80 percent Hispanic, they were
able to show students how both Spanish and English come from
Latin roots. Other programs have ranged from ballet to math
to the mechanics of bicycles.
Akusoa Taylor ’09, an engineering major, helped 10
first-graders learn about science through hands-on experiments.
This semester, she’s worked with students making their
own comic books.
Smith students, occasionally joined by volunteers from the
Five Colleges, spend a few weeks at the beginning of each
semester working with Winsor to map out lesson plans and
figure out how to incorporate a broad range of knowledge
into their programs. They continue to meet throughout the
semester to discuss problems and figure out how to adapt
plans to new situations.
One of the most rewarding
moments this year for Smith tutors at Gerena was the production
of Shakespeare’s A
Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the elementary school
students the actors, stage crew, set-designers and costumers.
As one of the enrichment programs offered by Smith tutors,
the project taught students about theater, literature and
But Gerena’s students aren’t
the only ones learning from the exchange. In addition to
gaining practical skills in education, Smith students take
away new wisdom from their experiences.
“What I like about kids is that they appreciate things
other people don’t even notice,” said Taylor. “They
always teach you something new.”