The Incredible Hulk, Wilt Chamberlain and Building Relationships with Students

The sun isn’t yet up when Emmanuel Yeboah arrives to Match Middle School each morning and it’s long set before he heads home at night. In between, the day is a blur of tutoring sessions, high fives, hallway conversations, dodgeball, homework help, teacher conferences and spoken word club. 

This is the day in the life of a Match corps member. 

Match is an AmeriCorps program. But unlike other AmeriCorps programs, where corps members are often add-ons to a school, the Match Corps is an integral part of the pedagogy at Match. The model has been proven to get results, and especially for Black and Latino boys. 

Everyday, Emmanuel – a graduate of Boston Latin School and (the) University of Connecticut – provides tutoring in English Language Arts for five hours a day. Each student at Match Middle receives two hours of tutoring a day – an hour in English, an hour in math – four days a week. Tutors coordinate their lesson plans with teachers and academic leaders to ensure that what each tutoring session reinforces a key concept or skill taught in class. 

Every Match corps member is a college graduate. There are 170 this school year, from all over the country, with diverse backgrounds and interests. Some, like Emmanuel, are considering teaching as a career, though just as many joined Match Corps to give back for a year or gain work experience before starting medical school, or law school or some other career-track job. 

Here’s Emmanuel’s story, in words and pictures. 

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Emmanuel usually arrives to school at 6:30am. Before the school day begins, he and his fellow corps members prepare for the day in a room on the third floor of the building where they finalize lesson plan and double-check schedules. Today, they confer with each other about students they have an eye on and joke around, complaining about a funny smell in their prep room. 

Emmanuel’s first of five tutoring sessions begins at 7:45am. He only has time to eat half the ham-egg-and-cheese he brought from home before meeting up with four 8th graders he’s been assigned to work with this year. 

Emmanuel has a gentle way with his students. It comes naturally to him, as the second oldest of five siblings. He nudges his students along and finds something to teach in every moment. He talks to them about the origins of the days of the week (Norse mythology) and what happened at the girls’ basketball team the night before (they lost). 

When one girl lays her head on the desk, he pulls out a graphic novel from his backpack. Soon, she’s reading and taking notes. He tells another boy to speak up while he’s reading his work aloud. “You know we’re always going to edit,” Emmanuel says, as they talk through prepositional phrases, tone and word choice: “What do you think is more clear in this sentence,” he asks, “see or watch?” Another student asks, “Why can’t you just turn into the Hulk?” after Emmanuel had explained how radiation’s toxicity changes human cell structure. “That’d be a cool science project,” Emmanuel replied, laughing.  

Emmanuel spends an hour a day with Ty, a whip-smart 7th grader who struggles to stay on task in class. The day’s session is on close reading. Ty is a basketball fan with encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its legends. Emmanuel pulls out an article on Wilt Chamberlain. The question at hand, “Is he the greatest of all time?” Tyree says no: the absence of the three-second violation allowed all 7’5 of Chamberlain to stand in the paint. “All Wilt had to do was stand there,” Ty says. 

Dodgeball at Match Middle School is like dodgeball anywhere. Fun chaos! A gymnasium full of 12-year olds slinging Nerf balls at short range. Emmanuel is in the middle of it all. 

By 4:15pm, students are ready for the end of a long day.  You can feel the energy in homeroom just before the dismissal bell. Some boys are joking around, dancing “the Carlton” from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Emmanuel helps them stay calm. He’s good at working anywhere and takes advantage of all downtime – he never stops moving. 

After school, half a dozen students turn up at Boston Pulse, a spoken word club that’s aim is to get young poets to write and perform their own work. It’s a highlight of the week for Emmanuel, who studied poetry in college and writes a bit himself (he double-majored in Africana Studies and Women’s Gender Studies at UConn). The topic of this day’s discussion is how poets use language, punctuation and pauses to create suspense. Tony delaRosa, who co-leads the club, dims the lights to show students YouTube videos of Franny Choi delivering “Wire Woman” and an excerpt of Saul Williams performing from the documentary, SlamNation. 

By now, it’s after 5pm – 10 hours after students arrived to school – but they are engaged, at the edge of their seats.