As a part of the curriculum, CMSRU students complete 40 hours of non-medical community service per academic year. Typically, students select one of the many organizations in Camden with whom Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD, PhD, Associate Dean for Diversity and Community Relations has established a partnership. Increasingly, however, Dr. Mitchell-Williams is reporting that the students are uncovering needs in Camden and starting their own service programs. Brian McCauley, a member of the charter class, had a deep desire to work with Camden youth on the most important of all academic skills in his opinion: reading.
As the father of two young boys, Mr. McCauley knows from personal experience that the impact of reading with a child goes far beyond academics. “There is a connection,” he says. “I initially wanted to set up a story hour for kids after school at the library”. He approached the librarians at Ferry Avenue Library in Camden and learned quickly that the children there needed more. A lot more. “It was a de facto day care,” Mr. McCauley reports, “where kids were just hanging out because they had nowhere else to go after school and for a variety of reasons, home just wasn’t an option.” Almost instantly, TutorTime was born.
TutorTime is an academic-centered program that provides homework help as well as enrichment activities such as math games and reading every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The number of school-age students in attendance ranges from seven to twenty, and the number of medical school volunteers is typically four to six. Working in collaboration with the library staff, Mr. McCauley and several other medical students have designated a large room as the official space for the program. The room is bright, and features 360 degrees of windows that keep the connection with the rest of the library. Students are allowed to come and go from the room at will, but they must follow several rules, the most important of which is respect for self and others.
One of Mr. McCauley’s primary goals has been to provide fresh fruit as a snack, for every child, every time. Surprisingly, the fruit became the gateway for participation and it continues to be a source of exploration, connection, and trust. Students trust that “Mr. Brian” or his team members will be there every Tuesday and Thursday, and they love to explore new and different tastes. (During Fall, they were amazed that apples came in so many colors!) Students come to TutorTime for the fruit and stay because they feel connected.
When the academic school year came to an end, TutorTime participants wondered if the medical students would continue through the summer. “We had established a strong bond, and we couldn’t leave them for the summer,” Mr. McCauley remembers. “However, I was starting my third year of medical school and knew that my time would be severely limited so I asked my colleague Brian Park (CMSRU Class of 2017) to take over as the lead.”
“It was around that time that I first met Dr. Judy Nadell,” says Kim Barkhamer, Development Director at CMSRU. Dr. Nadell, formerly a Rowan University professor, is co-owner and co-founder (with her husband John Langan) of Townsend Press, a Camden County educational publishing company that the addresses the needs of underserved students from kindergarten through college. “I read an article about the literacy work that Dr. Nadell was doing in Camden and it just clicked so I wrote to her,” Ms. Barkhamer continued. After several conversations and one very impactful visit to TutorTime, Dr. Nadell generously agreed to make a financial contribution to support Mr. McCauley’s and Mr. Park’s work through the summer. In addition, she provided two wonderful workshops for the TutorTime team, one on starting a peer reading program and another on how to establish a family literacy program. Dr. Nadell is also a co-founder of BookMates, a social justice project of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Catholic-Jewish Commission of Southern New Jersey; BookMates provides volunteers who read one-on-one to students in Title 1 schools each week.
Dr. Nadell comments, “When I visited, I was struck by the tender, respectful way the medical students related to the kids in the TutorTime program. The medical students are both engaging and engaged, clearly committed to connecting with the Camden community in meaningful, purposeful ways. They are the very embodiment of the CMSRU mission."
TutorTime has evolved to include a staff of CMSRU students. Max Cruz and Kalvin Foo serve as day captains with Jessica Mehan, James MacConchie, Muhammed Mustafa, and Evan Rochlis providing consistent mentorship each week.
Beginning in September 2014, TutorTime will expand to include Wednesday afternoons. In addition, medical student volunteers will serve as links to other programs at CMSRU, including JUMP (Junior Urban Medical Pioneers) and PULSE (Premedical Urban Leadership Summer Enrichment). Although these links are not TutorTime’s primary goal, CMSRU’s students and administrators feel that the impact could be truly beneficial: CMSRU has successfully admitted eight students from these “pipeline” programs to our medical school.