How Inspiring Minds and Brown University have come together to create a stronger learning environment in the Providence public school system.

Written by intern Grace Baldwin

Providence’s student body, while diverse, includes a 64% Hispanic population, with many having limited English proficiency. A primary objective of Inspiring Minds this year is to better assist these students by providing more bilingual tutors to Providence public schools; one way we are meeting this objective is by partnering with students of a Brown University course called Hispanics in the United States. This course is comprised of bilingual students and conducted entirely in Spanish, and an important component of the experience is to provide volunteer opportunities for agencies in Providence that serve the Hispanic/Latino population. Several volunteering options are provided for the students to choose from, and we are pleased that eleven of these students have chosen to give their time through Inspiring Minds. They are currently tutoring in five elementary schools and one high school.

Because classrooms in Providence are comprised of both bilinguals and native-English speakers, it is crucial to have volunteers in the classrooms that can not only tutor academic concepts, but can do so in the language which the student best understands. Brown University’s volunteers are able to balance these two needs for the students they tutor. Having bilingual tutors will result in the students’ full understanding of topics and concepts, and these volunteers from Brown have already begun to aid and assist teachers in moving forward the minds of Providence’s youth. One of the volunteers tutoring in a math classroom told Inspiring Minds that “individual attention makes a big impact on kids’ learning. The ESL students really want to do well they just need extra help.” With these volunteers, the students being tutored in the classroom can look forward to a fuller education now that they can understand the concepts in their first language.

Another volunteer told Inspiring Minds that they were an ESL student when growing up, so they are able to understand the difficulty in having to learn in a language that they don’t fully grasp. The most important thing to this volunteer is making a real difference with the students receiving help, and how the students are able to feel the benefits of being tutored in their native language outside of the classroom. She believes that “the only way to make a true impact is to serve willingly and with happiness.” This is the kind of mentality that makes a learning environment stronger and all around better!

Ideally, instructors and teachers need to be able to communicate with their students in the language that the student best understands; however, if the educator does not speak the language well enough, Inspiring Minds is hoping that creative solutions to the issue (such as putting bilingual volunteers in the room) will positively impact Providence schools. That is where Brown University’s tutors come in – they are able to translate texts, audios, and other forms of learning for the students who need that kind of help. The tutors from Brown are very effective, as they not only relate to the students’ perspective, but they are able to help a very specific student population who sometimes feel like they have no voice.

The volunteers here are motivated, kind, and generous people who love to watch the youth of Providence grow intellectually and creatively and want to share their passion for learning with the students they are working with. Bilingual tutors are an important part of the solution that Inspiring Minds is providing schools with to address students who need individualized supports, and the need for more volunteers like these is growing. If you or anyone you know of is bilingual and has 1-2 hours a week to give to help children in our city grow up empowered in their education, we hope you will join us! Find out more here:


Volunteer Spotlight: Margaret Gardner

having fun reading

What made you choose to become involved with Inspiring Minds:

I knew I wanted to work with an organization that made a difference. I did a lot of research and hemmed and hawed about deciding where to volunteer. I kept putting it off. Then a friend mentioned that she volunteered with Inspiring minds. I knew about VIPS. In college I had tutored a girl to help her get ready to go to MLK school. It all just came together. I love to work with children and wanted to make a difference and reap a reward.

How have you been impacted by your experience:

It makes me think about what it’s like to learn how to read. It also makes me think about my children and grandchildren. I am more aware of the Providence public schools. My kids went to MLK in the 80s. It’s a very different school. I can see the change and it’s fascinating to me. The 3 children I work with are wonderful, sincere, and lively and I see how they struggle. It’s good to see what the city has on its plate.

What do you wish people knew about Providence school students:

How diverse it is now. Students come from diverse backgrounds with various needs. But they are all just wonderful children. And we can help them, there’s a role to play. People should see the schools inside. A quick glance is not accurate.

What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your time with Inspiring Minds:

I hope that the kids realize that people care. Hard work results in reward. It takes work and discipline to succeed. I personally need to work on my discipline. I’m learning as much as they are.



It’s wonderful what we’re doing!

Giving Tuesday: Spread the Good!


Many of us are familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but join the growing group of Americans who want to spotlight the good we can achieve together! Consider giving to Inspiring Minds  for Giving Tuesday on or before this December 1st – it’s an excellent investment in our community and state! Then, take an #unselfie, upload it to your social media, and encourage your friends to give!

 Download our Giving Tuesday card and support #UnSelfie behavior!

Student Spotlight: Starling Garcia

Starling and his family were new to the country when he started at Asa Messer Elementary in 2013, but his lack of English in the school didn’t stop him from quickly making friends with most of the students and, in particular, the Inspiring Minds AmeriCorps team that was stationed there. Starling received intensive literacy lessons from our Corps members every day of the week, and his enthusiastic personality and excitement to learn quickly made him an obvious student to invite to Leyendo, a program designed specifically for bilingual students to build language skills quickly.

Starling then began to join the entire 10-member AmeriCorps team twice a week after school, participating in games, experiments, and lessons and each time looking sad when it was time for dismissal and always asking when the next meeting would be. He also joined our the Corps at two separate week-long academic camps that ran over student spring breaks, giving up his free-time at home in order to spend more time with the Corps members and friends he made in the program. On the final Leyendo field trip of the year, he joined the rest of the students in begging for the program to not end.

Due to Starling’s ever-present excitement to learn, his teachers saw a dramatic improvement in his usage of English in the classroom and in his scores – because of this, Starling was not assigned a tutor this past year, and our volunteers were assigned to students performing lower than him in the classroom. Our hope is to be able to follow Starling in his education to ensure he continues to receive support in the classroom, and with the continued support of our volunteers and donors we know we can!

Volunteer Spotlight: Blythe Raucci


Blythe with her husband at our Annual Recognition Event

Over the first year of her volunteering with us, you could say Blythe Raucci became one of Inspiring Minds’ biggest advocates.  Though Blythe initially approached us to volunteer because of internship requirements she needed to fulfill to graduate (and ended up giving over 200 hours of her time to the students and staff at Carl Lauro Elementary), you can now find her regularly considering ways to carry out our mission, and was honored this past spring as the 2015 Outstanding College Volunteer.

You may be picturing a typical college student based on that description, but Blythe is anything but: at 27 she is a mother and wife, but also rattles off interests in organic lifestyles, music festivals, and nature and speaks powerfully about service to others. After completing her internship with us, Blythe graduated from URI with honors this past May and is now employed with the Trudeau Center, continuing her passion of genuinely understanding and helping the people she meets.

When Blythe talks about her experience volunteering, it’s impossible to overlook the rewards she lists at every opportunity that she feels accompany working with our public school students. She emphatically notes that she finds the most fulfilling part of it all to be working with the often-overlooked, “difficult” children.

“These kids have more life experiences than the majority of the adults I interact with,” she says. “They know more about themselves than they are able to articulate, and that’s incredibly frustrating for them.” That’s why Blythe, under guidance from her partner-teachers and literacy coaches, began working with students who struggled with learning in a traditional classroom setting. Thinking of creative, alternative ways to approach reading and math lessons, as well as appropriate social and emotional expression, came naturally to her.

“If we have one child who comes to school and has worn the same shoes that you can see are hurting his feet and are too small for five months, comes in hungry every morning, and he’s behind academically – these are red flags. And it’s not, “This child is difficult.” It’s – “What else can we do?’”

When asked about her philosophy on volunteering, Blythe immediately and firmly answered “To do it!” While we could just leave it there, she added “We need to make things as good as we can for as many people as we can, because that’s how our world gets better.”

We are often awe-struck by the wisdom that comes out of our volunteers when we speak to them, Blythe being no exception. You might find her in our office this fall, trying out something that’s new to her – working with our high-schoolers in the Tech Center! We are incredibly thankful to have such a strong, thoughtful woman amongst our volunteers and we hope you can join us in thanking her for pouring her heart into our community.

Inspiring Minds Annual Recognition Event

DSC_0233More than 200 guests turned out on May 19 to help us honor Sparling Garcia, Bright Young Mind Award; Marianne Stephanian of Lifespan, Dedicated Volunteer Mentor in our Power Lunch Program; Walter Zekanoski, Distinguished Community Volunteer Tutor, and; Blythe Raucci of URI, Outstanding College Volunteer,. Helena B. Foulkes, Executive Vice President, CVS Health and President, CVS/pharmacy was our keynote speaker. Helena’s late mother, Martha Buonanno, was a long-time volunteer who loved tutoring our students. Helena was joined by Governor Gina M. Raimondo via video. The Governor was representedby the First Husband Andy Moffitt, who also spoke.

Every year we rely on the support of a thousand volunteers,  numerous families, Providence school principals and teachers, and hundreds of individual donors and corporations and businesses to carry out our mission of tutoring over 2,000 students. While it’s always hard to select just a few among so many to honor each year, it’s also a very great pleasure to recognize these dedicated people for all they do for our students.

Click here to see all the pictures from the event!

Launched for Learning: KidsBridge 2015


School has started and thanks to Inspiring Minds’ summer kindergarten prep program, KidsBridge, Alanah and 150 other children like her are better prepared for school. Alanah came to our program with no preschool and few learning experiences, she was years behind in skills needed for kindergarten. It is hard for us to imagine that at 5 years old she could not recognize her name much less write it, she didn’t know letters, and for lack of practice had trouble holding her pencil and using scissors. Additionally, she had a limited vocabulary so had difficulty understanding directions.  She needed more time to catch up but that was not an option.  School was starting in six weeks.

Inspiring Minds fills service gaps and so developed KidsBridge for children like Alana.  It provides an alternative to more time – intense individual attention in a structured program.  After seven years we see that it does increase skills.  As you know five year olds learn quickly and with so much individual help, they learn even faster.  It is exciting to watch as they gain new skills from one day to another.  The strength of the program is Inspiring Minds’ uniqueness, its huge numbers of volunteers.

After 80 hours of academic, social, and language help this five year old sponge showed dramatic gains.  Alanah was comfortable in the classroom setting, could follow instructions, learned letters, understood numbers and most importantly to her, she recognized her name and could write it.  She was confident and felt smart.

A wonderful part of the program is its ripple effect. In September the KidsBridge children become leaders, directing the new students and assuring those crying it would be ok.

KidsBridge, however, is only the path to Inspiring Minds’ larger goal. Nationally and locally there is an urgency to have all third graders proficient in reading and math and Rhode Island is 15 years behind the year 2000 which was the national goal set in 1990.

The biggest reason for not reaching that goal is the lack of preschool for thousands of children whose families can’t afford it.  Yet preschool is the prime indicator for a child graduating.  Even with that knowledge the state has invest insufficient dollars. So Inspiring Minds created a tested model for a less costly yet effective alternative that could serve Providence and the state.  It provides an option instead of nothing.

Inspiring Minds is pleased that Providence has shown its support by providing funds toward the KidsBridge program but to scale the program a collaborative state and city effort is needed.

Until then, Inspiring Minds will continue to help as many students as possible get ready for kindergarten.  There are now 1,000 children who have benefitted from the program. They continue to do well because Inspiring Minds can provide those still struggling with tutors while in school.

All of this is only possible because of our volunteers and our donors and we can’t begin to thank you enough for your caring and faith in Inspiring Minds ability to make a difference.   Thank You!