Tess O’Leary ’14 is headed back to school this summer – a school in her hometown, in fact. O’Leary is walking the halls of Frazer Elementary School in Syracuse as a tutor, spending her summer giving back to an organization that is very personal to her – Say Yes to Education, Inc.
The non-profit organization, which began in 2008, provides inner-city students with a high-quality education through summer and afterschool programs, as well as scholarship partnerships with some of the country’s top universities and colleges.
Although a national organization, Say Yes has found a strong foothold in Syracuse, N.Y. O’Leary herself benefited from the foundation’s partnership with Hobart and William Smith, receiving a scholarship to attend the Colleges.
O’Leary, who attended Fowler High School, is excited to participate in her second year as a tutor with the summer program. “I love giving back, since Say Yes has given me so much,” says O’Leary, an education policy major. “I also just love working with the kids – last year I had the chance to work at Porter Elementary, where I went to school.”
Having received the support of the program, O’Leary credits much of the organization’s success in Central New York with the nurturing upstate community. “People in Syracuse are so committed on so many levels – through various means of public funding, corporate funding and their efforts inside the schools – it’s just really clicked here, and it has formed so many wonderful partnerships.”
This summer, O’Leary is serving as a youth enrichment counselor, which entails working with a certified teacher and assisting in any way, as well as creating language arts lesson plans for fourth grade students. “We’re really focusing on different cultures this year, enriching the curriculum through art, language and musical activity.”
Among the lesson plans are “trips” to New Zealand, with units on myths and legends, and Hawaii, where the students are learning about the unique culture through Hula and more. Students are also creating the “Leaning Tower of Frazer,” a building constructed completely out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
O’Leary is looking forward to the program’s culminating event, which invites friends and family members to see the work the students have put into learning throughout the summer. “This is not summer school – it’s just a fun way to learn,” explains O’Leary. “We don’t want them to think of it as “regular” school, we don’t want them to dread going – we want them to be excited about learning and their education.”
On campus, O’Leary is a member of the Community Service House, volunteering in Geneva throughout the year at various events and locations including the animal shelter and the Boys and Girls Club. She is also a member of the Rotoract Club, and serves as an America Reads tutor.