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Marty Kaminsky Gives Kids a Golden Opportunity

Program thrives despite education cuts

Marty Kaminsky newsmaker story

Courtesy of RachelPhilipson.com

Retired teacher Amy Batimer plans to tutor Amaya White throughout her elementary school years as part of the Golden Opportunity program in Ithaca, N.Y.

At his first elementary school teaching position, Marty Kaminsky was paid $35 and seven yogurt cups a week, and he couldn't have been happier. "It's never been about the money for me," he says. "All I've ever wanted to do was change the world one child at a time."

Nearly 40 years and hundreds of students later, Kaminsky, 60, still gets his satisfaction from helping kids succeed and find their own unique talents and voices. So, as the rest of the country waits to see how federal and state budget cuts to education are going to affect already struggling school systems, it's no surprise that Kaminsky, now retired, has created a nonprofit program to help shore up the shortfall in his hometown of Ithaca, N.Y.

Marty Kaminsky newsmaker story

Courtesy of Marty Kaminsky

Marty Kaminsky.

The program, called Golden Opportunity, or GO, pairs retired teachers with elementary school students for one-on-one tutoring twice a week. Tutors are paid $22.50 an hour, with money contributed by individuals, businesses and foundations.

The big difference between GO and other such programs is that tutor and student stay together for the child's entire elementary school career, building trust, stability and true knowledge of the child's needs. The plan is for the relationships to continue into the middle school and high school levels, if possible.

Origins of an idea

Kaminsky's idea for GO came from his father's influence. In 2005, he was traveling every weekend to visit his dad, who was nearing death. During those long drives, he thought about how his father had very quietly performed many good deeds for others. After his dad passed away, Kaminsky found a drawer full of letters from people whose lives his father had touched for the better.

Kaminsky wondered if he would leave any such legacy. "I feel strongly that we have an obligation to leave the world a better place," he says. "I knew that, when I retired in a few years, I would still have a lot of energy, and I wanted to give back in much the way my dad had done. I had long been an educator and child advocate, and I knew I could use that experience to benefit my community."

The idea of GO was born. Kaminsky fine-tuned it during his daily 6 a.m. walks with his border collie, Kip. It couldn't have come at a better time — not only was retirement looming, he and wife, Martha, were soon to become empty-nesters. Daughter Leah, now 27, had flown the coop years ago. College was beckoning to David, now 19. "I work out a lot at my gym and write for various children's magazines, but I knew life had to be more than that," says Kaminsky, author of the young-adult book Uncommon Champions, stories of athletes who have overcome challenges to succeed.

"Marty has such a big heart, I never worried that he'd be one of those guys who retires and then doesn't know what to do with himself," says Martha. "I knew he'd cook up something."

Everyone's a winner

The GO model Kaminsky cooked up has proved to be effective. A 2010 Johns Hopkins University study found that in the case of teaching reading, one-to-one tutoring works best. Small group tutorials can be effective, but not as much as one-to-one instruction by teachers or paraprofessionals. Research also shows that teachers are more effective as tutors than paraprofessionals or volunteers.

For everyone involved with GO, it's a win-win situation. The students get one-on-one help from a trained professional; the tutors do what they love without dealing with school bureaucracy; the classroom teachers see their kids receive the help that they can't give because of class size; and since the tutors are paid by GO, the parents, who are often struggling themselves, get the services for free for their children.

Kaminsky created a board and raised enough funds to expand the program into four elementary schools and one middle school, with 35 tutors serving 40 students. He recently received a $50,000 grant from a local company, Vector Magnetics, which will allow him to expand even more. Publisher Highlights for Children is donating 200 books and magazine subscriptions for all the students and tutors.

For Kaminsky, it's all about helping every child have a fair chance."Many of these kids have never been on a level playing field," he says. "I want to give them access to the tools that will help them to succeed in life."

Beth Levine is a writer in Stamford, Conn.

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