Bringing knowledge to the table

Dinner plates are being cleared as children are laughing and shouting at Martha’s Table. “Where’s my tutor?” a child asks impatiently. Once the tutors arrive, the eager faces brighten and determination to finish homework sets in.

Martha’s Table, a GW Neighbors Project site, is a non-profit organization in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C. The program receives funds from grants and private donations from local organizations. The tutoring program, which runs from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, serves about 80 children ages six to 10.

About 30 GW students and others from neighboring high schools volunteer once or twice a week alongside the permanent Martha’s Table staff of eight.

Martha’s Table was established in the early 1980s as a free after-school program for children from surrounding schools. It functions mostly as a daycare center where children can do homework and play with friends. Children receive dinner from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then receive one-on-one tutoring.

GW started the Neighbors Project in 1993 and adopted the Martha’s Table site in 1998, according to Stacy Blumenthal, GW Neighbors Project coordinator.

“(The tutors) bring a sense of consistency and reliability for the children,” Children’s Program Director Stephanie Thomas said.

One-on-one tutoring improves a child’s behavior and grades, said Thomas, who has seen the biggest improvement in math skills.

Junior Stacey Markman, volunteer coordinator for Martha’s Table, tutored there for two years before taking the position.

“I stayed tutoring because it’s so open, no restrictions, no lesson plans, no strict rules,” Markman said. “It’s not only teaching, it’s establishing a close relationship.”

Martha’s Table tutors work with the same child each time they visit according to Fred Hoston, staff worker at Martha’s. The tutors are usually randomly assigned to children, but sometimes tutors are matched with students who choose to work with them. If a tutor’s child is absent, there is always another child who needs help according to Thomas.

The tutors and children usually spend 35 minutes on homework or reading books, and play games for the rest of the hour. Game favorites include checkers, Connect Four and Memory. For the older children, quiz games and flashcards are popular.

A tutor must always pay attention to the rules of the game, because the children are infamous for making up their own rules, Thomas said. There is even a computer lab upstairs where children can write stories and play educational games.

Thomas said the computers, which were donated by various foundations and organizations, are some of the program’s best assets. Children can play computer games and write stories using Microsoft Power Point. The computers help expand children’s creativity while keeping them excited about learning, Thomas said.

Sophomore Maria Wittman has worked with the same child at the center since she started as a freshman. She said tutoring makes a strong impact on children.

“There are little signs of gratitude and a closeness that begins to develop between the tutors and the children,” Wittman said. “I have a greater patience for children and a greater appreciation for the child developmental and learning process.”

Markman said even a small amount of time makes a big impact on the children at Martha’s Table.

“When you tutor, you put a lot of yourself in it,” Markman said. “The kids get excited for the tutors, and it’s only an hour out of your day.”

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