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March 05, 2020

All roads lead back to Philly: a well-traveled educator returns home to change young lives by mentoring with a local nonprofit

Mentors Nonprofits

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There are brightly-colored folders strewn across desks and positive posters decorating the walls in an empty classroom at Eliza Butler Kirkbride School. Montana Tamny sits down with a few students at a large table to begin their weekly scheduled reading activities.

First up, phonics. Tamny pulls out a deck of flashcards that have letters on them. “‘P’ makes a ‘puh’ sound. ‘Puh.’ ‘P,’” she iterates sounds for each letter. From there, the group begins to complete worksheets to strengthen their knowledge of sight words. The lesson ends with a guided reading of a short story. After a quick 30-45 minutes, the kids are back to their regular school day routine.

Montana Tamny often gets mistaken for a teacher. Although her resume does feature a teaching certification, she’s part of a local nonprofit, the Uncommon Individual Foundation (UIF). Founded in 1986, by Dr. Richard E. Caruso, UIF is a nonprofit leader in mentor-based learning. Tamny is part of UIF’s Youth Literacy Mentoring Program (YLM), which helps nearly 1-thousand students within 8 schools in Philadelphia read at grade level. The program is delivered to schools who need it the most, at no charge. UIF is part of a city-wide initiative to help Philadelphia students improve their literacy skills.

Tamny and her colleagues supplement the curriculum in various Philadelphia schools for students who are struggling to meet proficiency in English literacy. The Youth Literacy Mentoring team delivers lessons and introduces the students to iReady—an interactive online curriculum in reading and math. 

“Youth Literacy Mentoring enables us to support struggling students become proficient readers, and grow their love of reading,” says Betsy Curtis, UIF Program Director for YLM. “Additionally, we provide wrap around support to teachers helping them assess their students’ strengths and gaps, to share data with students and together, celebrate growth.”

At Eliza Butler Kirkbride School, nearly half the school population is learning English as a second language. A handful of these children have been in the United States for less than six months. However, this unique situation gives Montana Tamny a chance to show off her skills. Tamny studied social work and Spanish at Elizabethtown College. She traveled to several Latin American countries by studying abroad in Ecuador and participating in the Peace Corps. “Something that I share with the kids is that all the kids in that room are from Central America, and I have been to all the countries that they’re from,” says Tamny.

During the entire school day, students learning English as a Second Language are taught in English. For the time spent with Montana Tamny, students are encouraged to feel at home by speaking in their native language when necessary. “Language is so important to culture and connection,” says Tamny. With this connection, she is able to form a unique bond with the students that most educators do not have the opportunity to form.

The administration at Kirkbride School is grateful for the extra support. “The students really love iReady and they love Montana Tamny,” said Catherine Memmolo, School-Based Teacher Leader at Eliza Butler Kirkbride School. “We just celebrated 35% of students reaching their reading goals.”

Montana Tamny and her colleagues continue to impact lives at Eliza Butler Kirkbride School and beyond by equipping students with tools for their success—on whichever road they may choose.