Notes from the Bald Man: November 2018

To make extra money, I used to tutor well-off young adults in Silicon Valley. I was trying to support my very expensive habit of working with under-served young men of color coming out of jail. So six days a week, I would spend my mornings working with young men who hated school and thought they were stupid, and then high-tail it to the “Valley” where I would trade on my Ivy League education to tutor the children of Steve Jobs and other tech giants.  Going from one extreme to the other, I realized that the differences between all of these young men and women were not as great as one would assume. The real difference was that in one community, failure was not an option, or, at least, the possibility for it was mitigated by the complete wrap-around support services that those wealthy high school students received. If the young man in Silicon Valley was dyslexic, or if he had ADHD, he had tutors like me and case workers and psychologists to help. The poor kids in SF, on the other hand, if they could not make it in schools that were over-crowded and under-funded, they would simply drop out and decide that school was not for them.

As a result of this experience, I realized that my goal as an educator was to (as much as possible) give “public school” folks private school treatment, by which I mean, I wanted to help create options for how my students learned, so that they could find a way to learn that worked for them. That is a goal that I think all of us at LCMC aspire to, as well, which leads me to the “McDonalds Project.”

Earlier this year, we rallied our incredible Community Builders for Do More 24 to kickstart our Workforce Development program by raising $20,000. In addition, we received a County Council Community Award, which I believe is a first for us.  The county gave us the award to go into local restaurants and up-skill current employees who show promise but who are locked out of promotions due to a lack of academic or vocational skill.

We spent the summer looking for locations, and in September, went into a McDonalds in East County and started our pilot with 10 employees who were coming to us from two different McDonalds in the area.

If we were just teaching language skills, I am not sure we would have received the influx of donations from you, our Community Builders, or the grant. For me, and I believe, for the county officials who selected us, a very exciting aspect of this program is that we do two class sessions a week right at the McDonalds itself, and we offer both academic and vocational skills—the latter giving students the opportunity to gain a nationally accredited certification in customer service that they can take with them to other restaurants and/or to hotels. We have some students who are more driven towards the vocational training and others driven towards learning more grammar.

As we grow the program, we will also bring tutors in to supplement and diversify the academic instruction we are giving.  Though all of our current students are ESL, in the next restaurant we work with, we might have a basic literacy or even a GED-level student who needs our help.

From an organizational standpoint, I want to make sure we realize that this is a great accomplishment in how it aligns with LCMC’s strategic plan, its goals as a service organization, and its purpose as a community based organization attempting to deliver high-quality learning opportunities where they currently don’t exist. It’s also worth noting that this new funding from the County Council puts us in a new light with many of our civic and political leaders.

But perhaps the most important aspect of this initiative is that it gets us just a step closer towards creating a small part of the world in which anyone who wants to learn, has a way of doing so. This program proves how with a little bit of care and a good bit of thought, a program like ours can bring private education options to very public school folks.

gabriel martinez