A Message From The Chair Of Our Board

February 2017

Dear Friend in Math:

The last time I wrote a “State of the Union” address was when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, and I was stranded in my apartment with nothing to do.  Well, it’s been a busy five years for Top Honors!  I was half-hoping for another supernatural event to provide time for reflection, but given the recent goings-on, it just can’t wait.

I’m thrilled to announce that on Saturday, February 4, we opened the doors of a new location in downtown Brooklyn!!!  It’s a huge milestone for Top Honors on many levels.  But most importantly, our flagship Upper West Side location was packed to the gills and couldn’t accommodate more students, despite a waiting list reminiscent of a DMV line.

We had to find a way to help more families, and we did it!

That Saturday, 20 students and their tutors arrived for the first day of Brooklyn tutoring.  I had the chance to meet the new crop of tutors and, as is the case with all of our volunteers, they give me faith in humanity.  These are wonderful people that donate their time and energy to help the young people of their community, and I am proud to be associated with them. 

We hope to grow this Brooklyn location to accommodate 75 students, so if you know anybody who wants to become a tutor, please fill out an application here!

Meanwhile, at our flagship Upper West Side location, we have 104 students and 100 tutors coming each Saturday.  Over the past 15 years, we have taught more than 1,300 students, and with this many young minds passing through our doors, we needed to investigate the impact. Two years ago, we commissioned a longitudinal study of our student alumni, and the results exceeded our expectations.  Here are just a two of the highlights:

  • After one year in the program, students see a full letter grade improvement in math
  • 98% of our alumni have graduated high school on time (versus <60% of their peers)

This success is not possible without the fantastic people involved in our organization.  We now have 122 tutors that give their time each week.  Over 60% of them of them are returnees, and a few have been tutoring for almost a decade!  This October, we achieved a Top Honors first, when a student alumna, Amanda, became a tutor.  I can remember when Amanda was a seventh-grader working with her tutor, Wally (who himself is still a Saturday tutor).  Wow!

Our tutors are, among other things, lawyers, bankers, educators, engineers, architects, musicians, and executives.  Obviously, it is difficult to carve out two hours each Saturday, but they do it, year after year!

Quite a few of them have assumed more leadership responsibilities and I constantly marvel at their willingness to give back.  They become game leaders, or Junior Board members, or Executive Board members, or special project coordinators.  One of them, Tanuja, has even spun off her own non-profit, Books and Breakfast, which provides free breakfast and literacy aid to students.  Another former tutor, Melvin, left a career as a corporate attorney to become a junior high math teacher; today, he volunteers his Saturdays as an educational specialist for Top Honors.  These are but a few of the uplifting stories I could share.

We are also indebted to our staff: particularly our Executive Director, Julia Kang.  Before hiring Julia in 2014, we ran Top Honors with two part-time employees. I get misty-eyed thinking about how hard Julia has worked, not only in maintaining the existing program, but also in building out the infrastructure required to make the Brooklyn site a reality.  She keeps the trains running with grace and style.

Julia has also freed us up to focus on more strategic initiatives.  One such accomplishment is the establishment of a Junior Board. For this, we tapped Pranita Suvarna, a six-year veteran tutor.  Pranita has recruited and molded a team of 12 talented individuals.  Collectively, they have organized programming, staffed events, provided legal counsel, crafted marketing material, fundraised, and been outstanding ambassadors for our organization.  They are the unsung heroes of Top Honors.

We have also added five new faces to the Executive Board in the past year and are now 10 members strong and growing.  While historically, we have been a board primarily comprised of tutors, these new members have been a welcome injection of outside perspective, talent, and resources for the organization, and are among the key enablers of the Brooklyn expansion.

With so much progress at an organizational level, it is easy to lose sight of what Top Honors is all about: the kids.  I fondly remember my first day as a tutor, back in 2009.  I was nervous, having never taught math and having had no experience with junior high-aged kids.  Fortunately, that day I was paired with Elias, an 11 year-old from the Bronx.  Elias had a bright smile and was almost too enthusiastic about math.  Our bond was instantaneous, and over the next year, we flew through the curriculum.  I was sad when Elias “graduated,” but thrilled about how much progress he had made. 

Elias was the original reason that Top Honors became ingrained in my life and I figured that he was an exception.  Since then, however, I have tutored kids like Lynel, Julien, Manuel, and now Maria, and each of them has left me feeling flush with purpose and, more importantly, gratitude.  It’s a beautiful thing to help a child learn.

I feel so blessed to be part of this, and it would not be possible without the support of our donors and volunteers.  We hope that you will continue to support us as we expand our presence, and I look forward to another exciting five years.

Humbly,
Ben Block
Chairman, Top Honors