An atypical service experiment, the MATCH Corps is a one-year commitment that takes recent college graduates and tosses them into an educational arena, often in an environment considered politically controversial. Its members take on a complicated role; they act as mentors, small group tutors, subject-specific seminar leaders and teaching assistants at the MATCH Charter Public High School in Boston, Mass.
“About 70 percent of the students at this school are about a grade level behind in reading, and 30 percent of them are more than 4 years behind,” said Gabe Davis ‘11, one of three Carleton graduates who is currently a member of the MATCH Corps. Meaghan Foster ‘09 and Stephanie Guerrero ’11 also work for the program.
MATCH is part of the No-Excuses Class of charter schools. Composed exclusively of poverty-stricken minority students, the mission of this class of charters is to close the racial achievement gap through rigorous course work, a strict code of conduct and strong academic support.
Davis’ role in the academic process is demanding and rewarding.
“Corps members have various jobs,” he said. “At the most basic level, members are paired with a few kids who they do intensive small group tutoring with.”
Davis works with groups of freshmen and juniors each day. He is also a teacher’s assistant for Advanced Placement Calculus and prepares three one-hour calculus seminars that he conducts twice a week.
The workload that Davis carries is just one aspect of the intense focus of the MATCH school. Each day, he works along with other Corps members, teaching staff and administrators to create an environment in which students who enter the high school below the standard reading level can excel and achieve acceptance into a four-year university.
“There is this very intense school culture that really focuses on creating an environment where kids are 100 percent focused on what they need to be doing to learn,” Davis said. “There’s a dress code, and we have to enforce it. The kids aren’t allowed to swear. Students have to be sitting up straight and paying attention in class. If they’re losing focus in tutorial or aren’t focusing on the tutorial packet, we have to give them demerits.”
The MATCH Corps’s disciplinary approach is meant to prod its student forward along an academic path.
“It’s this sort of super intense enforcement of this ‘culture’ where the kids are constantly held accountable for making sure they’re really learning,” he added. “It was kind of off-putting to me at first, but… there’s really this culture of privilege and a language of privilege, and what we’re trying to do at these schools is to teach kids to speak that language. They wouldn’t otherwise have access to that kind of culture and language, but we do it so that they can then go on to college and be free of our discipline system.”
Davis says that his bare minimum workweek is 60-70 hours, with even more expected from many MATCH Corps members. On top of his classroom and small-group sessions with his freshmen, Gabe tutors math after school where he often works with the same group of students.
“Small group work is really great,” Davis said. “There’s this group of senior girls who are really struggling with calculus but they’re really, really committed to getting it, and they’re there every day with me working on their homework and asking me questions. When I work with them, I can really feel when they move from not understanding something to really understanding it. And, you know, that feels really good.
“The flip side of that is when I do work with students really closely and they do really poorly,” he added. “That’s really hard. You can’t help but feel personally responsible.”
Davis is also enrolled in a weekend program that will eventually lead to certification for teaching in the No-Excuses Class of charter schools.
He says that the MATCH Corps experience is “really hard work.”
“And you know, coming from Carleton, I’m used to hard work,” Davis said. “This is just hard work of a different kind. But it’s really, really rewarding. I still miss Carleton a lot, but this is the real world a little bit, and I’m enjoying my time here.”