Terri Adelman is executive director of Inspiring Minds, a nearly 50-year-old nonprofit in Providence that provides education and social support to academically struggling Providence public school students.
The organization just honored several community supporters at its annual recognition luncheon including second-grader Lugina Escoto, who received the super student award for making academic strides since receiving Inspiring Minds support since K-Prep.
PBN: You just received an AmeriCorps grant to fund additional mentoring positions. How vital are the AmeriCorps workers to your organization?
ADELMAN: AmeriCorps are extremely vital because their presence enables us to place more volunteers into schools who provide on-site supervision and help facilitate intensive tutoring for a full day rather than an hour or two at a time. One AmeriCorps can tutor up to 20 children in one day. In a cash-strapped economy, they increase Inspiring Minds’ ability to carry out our mission.
PBN: Have volunteers disappeared in recent years? What efforts have you made to retain them?
ADELMAN: The volunteer pool started changing around 15 years ago as a higher percentage of people joined the workforce fulltime. At that time we researched alternative sources of volunteers and we came up with two prospects: college education students and businesses. College teacher candidates needed experience in urban classrooms. By offering to facilitate the placement of the candidates into the schools and by providing the training, our students benefited. We were able to place a pool of tutors into the schools for our kids. The first year we had 36 college students, we now place 600 in a year.
PBN: Why is it that children in poverty do not receive learning opportunities normally afforded most students? Is this a schools problem?
ADELMAN: The operative word here is “afforded.” The families of children in poverty frequently have neither the time nor resources to take advantage of learning opportunities provided by a community. A simple task, such as going to a free library, becomes insurmountable if the library is far from home and you don’t have a car or money for a bus. In a perfect world, it should not be the school’s problem; unfortunately it has become a school’s problem because ultimately a society’s expectation is for a school to graduate educated children. This can’t be accomplished if barriers that hinder learning such as hunger, lack of sleep, an illiterate home, etc., aren’t first addressed.
PBN: How does Inspiring Minds work to produce students with skills necessary for emerging jobs?
ADELMAN: To be ready for emerging jobs children need a sound foundation in reading, writing and math. That’s what all future learning is based on, so Inspiring Minds diligently works to move as many students as possible into the middle schools with that foundation. For the older students, we believe problem-solving skills and creativity are vital for today and tomorrow’s jobs. Therefore, Inspiring Minds Technology Center develops engaging, hands-on projects in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that not only give youngsters an opportunity to learn skills through doing, problem-solving and creating, but also generates an enthusiasm and interest for careers in STEM fields. For example, our students simultaneously learned about solar energy and soldering when they built a cell phone charger out of an Altoid box.
PBN: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
ADELMAN: Reaching our goal of helping kids succeed in school requires many partners, so the most rewarding part of my job is talking with people, seeing they get it and are willing to step up and help when asked.