Two and a half years ago, just after she and her husband Emery had moved into Glenaire, Carolyn Anderson was talking to a staff member and the woman mentioned that her daughter, a 4th grader, was having trouble in math. As it happened, Carolyn had tutored 4th grade math in the local public schools for 15 years, so she offered to tutor the woman’s daughter. The woman happily accepted, and in just six weeks the little girl went from a weak “entering 4th grade” level to a strong “entering 5th grade level” in her math proficiency.
That gave Carolyn an idea. The staff at Glenaire is exceptional, she says, going out of their way to help and accommodate the residents any way they can, but residents aren’t allowed to tip them or give them gifts to show their appreciation. Tutoring their kids, she thought, would be a way to pay them back for all they do. So, she put together a program matching staff member’s children who needed tutoring with residents willing to tutor them.
The program has been an amazing success. The tutor chooses the age of the student they want to work with and the subject matter. They meet with their student for one hour each week. “People share what they’re good at,” Carolyn says. As a result, the tutoring has expanded beyond academic subjects to include such things as art and swimming. At present they have about 35 residents tutoring 70 children and adults. Yes, adults – staff members who need help with their English can sign up for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutoring.
Carolyn says it’s important to match the right tutor to the right student. “We work as a team to find the best tutor for each child. For instance, I do well with upper elementary school math, but not middle school math. So, I need to find another resident to take the child to that next level.”
Many residents have signed up enthusiastically while others are somewhat wary, but either way the results are the same. “Some people are hesitant to try it,” Carolyn says, “but then they can’t stop talking about how cute their kid is and how much fun they’re having. It gives people a whole new lease on life. They ‘re doing something that has meaning. They can see they’re making a difference with the child, they develop a relationship with the child, and they absolutely love it.”
Sally Jones is one of the resident tutors. Sally tutors two children, a 5th grader and a 2nd grader. As a former 5th grade teacher, Sally brings decades of experience to bear in tutoring her students. “It gives me a chance to do something I love,” Sally says, “and I just think it’s a fabulous program.”
Sally, like Carolyn, is glad to be able to do something for the Glenaire staff. “The staff here not only takes care of us, but they’re so happy about it,” she says. “They’re so cheerful. It’s just a wonderful place. It’s a happy place! The staff here will do anything for you!” She and her husband Harry (“When Harry Met Sally,” she says, laughing. “That’s how people remember us!”) have been at Glenaire for seven months “and it’s like being on a cruise,” she says.
The two children Sally tutors are actually very bright, and their need for a tutor is different from those who may be struggling in school. According to Carolyn, the residents primarily tutor two groups of students: those who need help understanding and absorbing their schoolwork, and gifted kids who need focus and one-on-one attention they don’t get in school. “Gifted children can get lost in the shuffle and need that extra attention,” she says.
For many kids, in fact, the tutor becomes what Carolyn calls a “surrogate grandparent.” “The kids need somebody to believe in them and be a friend, to be a cheerleader,” she says. “And to give a resident a chance to do that, and the child a chance to receive it, is a great gift. It’s really a match made in heaven.” In fact, she continues, “sometimes I think the residents benefit more from the tutoring than the children. Because as we age, you really need to find ways to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. And a program like this makes people feel like they’re making a contribution.”
As the program has grown, Carolyn has seen it become very much a group effort. “We do it as a community,” she says. “I started it, but without a lot of people pitching in, it wouldn’t be happening.” In particular she cites Toni Woods, who handles many of the administrative tasks associated with the program. “She keeps me organized,” Carolyn says with a smile.
The program has been so successful that even some future residents on the wait-list have become tutors. “They are very welcome to help,” Carolyn says. “We have a waiting list of students who need tutors, so we would love to have them.” If any Resident of the Future is interested in being a tutor at Glenaire, you can call Emily Smith at 919-447-4492.
For Carolyn, starting the tutoring program made perfect sense, and she’s grateful Glenaire is the type of resident-driven community that encourages ideas like hers. “If you come in and you want something, just make it known,” she says, “because there’s probably a whole group of people who want the same thing. I encourage people, when they get here, to bring with them whatever they enjoy doing, because there will be other people here that like it, too.”