Newsletter Library

A Word From Our Founder

Alexandra Mayzler, Executive Director, Thinking Caps

Greetings to our ever-widening Thinking Caps family. We made it! Congratulations on a wonderful school year. I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all of our wonderful families for letting us work with such bright, passionate, and exceptional students. These kids teach us so much about the process of learning and engage us every day. It has been a pleasure watching them grow and find their footing this past year. Overseeing these transformations truly never gets old! We hope you have a relaxing and rest-filled summer, and we look forward to being in touch this fall. In the meantime, do not hesitate to reach out; it is always great to hear from you.

Alexandra Mayzler

Tutor Spotlight

Tia Mancuso

Growing up, my least favorite question on standardized tests were: “Please check the box that best applies to you: White; Black; Hispanic; Asian; Other.” I never quite fit neatly into a tiny box, and at such a young age, I felt completely invalidated by admitting I fit into the “other” category. Surely there was more to me than a lonely check mark. One that wasn’t even able to paint the details of my identity, my experiences, my ambitions and dreams. In fifth grade when I was learning about the Civil Rights Movement, my teacher separated the class by skin color to bring to life what segregation looked like. As I awaited my turn, I began wondering where he would place me, since I began to notice a binary unfold. This was my first encounter with race and how people perceived me, solely based on my outward appearance.

My racial ambiguity has always been a topic of conversation. The answer to the repeated question of, “What are you?” is, I am half Sicilian and part Chinese, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian & Filipino. In addition to my racial background, my family dynamics have been equally as diverse and therefore equally “other.” Navigating through my personal and academic experiences, I continue to find a lack of diversity that realistically represents the many different groups that make up our society. This deficit is increasingly prevalent in the education settings of at-risk youth. These children deserve role models and effective practitioners they can relate to. My encounters regarding my identities, background and upbringing have fueled my desire to work in the education field with youth who are deemed "at-risk" and has given me the opportunity to connect with children who also come from diverse backgrounds.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I felt compelled to dedicate a year to service through the AmeriCorps program called City Year. I spent the 2015-2016 academic year working in a Title I middle school in Little Rock, AR that was deemed “failing” by the state. However, I can attest that it is not the administrators, teachers, or students that are failing. Education is not one-size-fits-all, in which pushing standardized tests to fulfill grants is more important than the organic learning that should take place in the classroom. I had the opportunity to cultivate sincere connections with amazing children and found that the system in place has not done them any favors. By our society’s standards, they are not adequately prepared to further their education, to be high-functioning citizens, or find well-paying jobs. There is much work to be done to strengthen their transferable skills, to teach them lessons that go beyond the classroom, and to ignite the belief in them that they are capable of much more than what they have seen growing up thus far. To take a step in the right direction, research must be conducted to understand the achievement chasm between predominantly white schools and predominantly black schools. In addition, new policies must be implemented to finally and truly uphold the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In a country that holds capitalism very near and dear to its heart, it would seem that the obvious choice is to invest in the education of our youth. My personal, professional and academic experiences have strengthened my investment in our promising and diverse population. As I pursue my master's in social work at NYU and gain valuable experience with my Thinking Caps students, I will continue to serve as a champion for underrepresented youth.

You Ask, We Answer!

A student asks: I used to be really good at English. I never had to study and I always contributed to class discussions. But now I feel like everything we read is really abstract, symbolic and makes no sense. I also find it hard to follow along with discussions. Besides, it’s boring! Even worse, my teachers are suddenly way harsher when grading papers.

Answer: It sounds like you need to make note of your learning style and go from there. If you’re doing the reading and you feel like you’re not grasping the plot, symbolism, context etc., you may need to think about how you best process information. Should you get the book as an audio tape and listen that way? Perhaps the inflections of the author’s voice will help you follow. Or, if you are a visual learner, perhaps you need to look online for some videos or photographs of the characters, setting, dialogue. Maybe you need to “prime” yourself with a preview or summary of the chapter online before you start reading so you know what to look for, and you feel prepared for class discussions. Remember to take notes in the margins and circle ideas, events or words you don’t understand. When you do understand something, write your thoughts in the margin too so you can refer back to them later. Find someone you can discuss the reading with so that you feel some clarity before you even begin any writing assignments. Lastly, try to meet with your teacher (and also, possibly, a tutor) about the ideas in the text so that you have some one-on-one time to process what you need to. You can do it; everyone learns differently!

Tips and Helpful Hints from Tutors

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Life by Kate Atkinson
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples
The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future by Robert B. Reich
Here is New York by E.B. White

Parent's Corner

A parent asks: My daughter had a rough time at the end of this school year and in general the transition to 9th grade was very difficult for her. How can I use this summer to help her recharge and remember what she used to enjoy about learning?

Answer: The goal is to nurture and follow her curiosity! Remember that learning does not always involve homework or structure. If you want to remind your daughter about her natural proclivities, interests or love of learning, then let this happen organically. Support your daughter in investigating or discovering things relating to her hobbies. Take her to the bookstore and buy her any book that she wants. If she has had a favorite book in the past, ask the clerk at the store what books her or she might recommend for your daughter. Think yourself of classics that have a similar style. If she’s tired of the formalities of school, introduce Salinger for example. If you see a play or a movie, encourage family discussions at the dinner table, and facilitate light-hearted and fun debates, where family members defend their opinions, voice questions they were left with, or describe their favorite and least favorite aspects of the show. Talk about your life when you were her age, and connect and laugh over the differences; allow her to start learning about cultural context and history in a natural way. If she has favorite singers or athletes, encourage her to blog or write about what she likes. If she has political inclinations, perhaps you can read the news with her each day and compare thoughts and notes. Which parts did she not understand or have questions about? Does she have a favorite journalist? There are many companies that now send out summaries of the news like The Skimm, for example, which are great tools to start conversations and encourage your kids to learn about the world the way millennials appreciate. It’s also a great jumping off point for her to research anything further that she finds interesting. If she mentions something of interest to her, do some digging and send her books, movies or articles that you think she’d also enjoy. If you are in disagreement about a household rule over the summer, have her make her case in written form. Maybe even send her some novels that navigate societal rules and constraints that plague the protagonists (Edith Wharton books, for example). There are many casual ways that you can engage your daughter and remind her that she has a capable and lively mind, and that learning should not have rules or limitations.