Taking Initiative

The tutoring and mentoring program is about developing positive connections between the students.

The tutoring and mentoring program is about developing positive connections between the students.

One of the core characteristics of being in the National Honor Society is service. Students frequently spend time tutoring other students as part of this commitment. One student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School felt that his chapter was not doing enough. He took action.

Junior Zach Azrael, vice president for service in BT’s National Honor Society chapter, saw that the status quo of NHS students tutoring other students in Beth Tfiloh was not really meeting the quota for service and, he felt, didn’t meet the needs of the community at large.

“There are 78 students in NHS and only 30 (students at Beth Tfiloh) needed tutoring,” said Zach. He talked about the issue with his neighbor, Terry Hickey, the director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in the Greater Chesapeake Region, and Hickey directed Zach to C. Diane Booker, the director of U.S. Dream Academy. Over the next five months, Zach worked with the academy to create a program for 28 Beth Tfiloh students to run tutoring and mentoring programs for more than 80 students at Pimlico Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

U.S. Dream Academy, founded in Columbia, Md., in 1998 by vocal artist Wintley Phipps, works to empower children who are at risk of incarceration to maximize their potential by providing them with academic, social and values enrichment through supportive mentoring and the use of technology, according to its website. The BT students are working with the students at the one location in Baltimore (there are eight across the country) to realize that mission.

“We encourage strongly the [NHS] students to create their own initiatives,” Zach said. “We have a science program, a technology program, an art program and a pen-pal program with a school in Uganda. Some students are running a book drive, and two of our students are creating educational games that they can play with the kids during down time.”

The NHS students have access to the attendees’ report cards and work with them to improve their grades. It’s about developing positive personal connections between the students.

Helaine Steinberg, the NHS adviser at Beth Tfiloh for the last 16 years, said she has rarely seen such commitment and initiative from students.

The mentoring program involves 28 Beth Tfiloh volunteers and more than 80 students from Pimlico Elementary/Middle School.

The mentoring program involves 28 Beth Tfiloh volunteers and more than 80 students from Pimlico Elementary/Middle School. (Photos provided)

“It’s hard for me to put into words how impressed I am by these students,” she said. “Zach has really taken it from just an idea to a program that is generating national attention from the National Honor Society. The students he has working with him are so incredibly enthusiastic; obviously the program would not be able to run without those dedicated students.”

Zach said his personal service plans extend beyond Baltimore, He is also working with Teach for America in Philadelphia to create a future partnership between Beth Tfiloh’s NHS chapter and the U.S. Dream Academy there. Eventually, he hopes to reach out to other NHS chapters to take on this program.

For now, Zach is just plain proud.

“Every time that Evan Quartner [BT, grade 11] has attended, he has worked with the same fifth-grade girl and helped her with her math,” Zach said. “Recently, she came up to him because she got a very high grade on her math test. She said, ‘Mr. Evan, you’re the best’ and gave him a big hug. Math was her worst subject at the beginning of the year.”

“What really makes me proud is that these students have taken the NHS service and have taken the BT concept of healing the world and have put it out into the community and created such good,” said Steinberg. “This group has really surpassed the groups that have come before them, and they are making BT really proud.”

Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.

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