Volunteer Spotlight: Denise T.

Some people have a passion that they find early in life and maintain forever. For Denise Terry, tutoring is that passion. While attending Albertus Magnus College, Denise tutored students at a Catholic elementary school. During two of her college summers, she worked as a tutor in a residential program for children with dyslexia. After teaching at several different levels, she was trained at The Kingsbury Center in Washington, D.C., and tutored there for five years before moving into full-time teaching again. She kept tutoring even after taking on full-time teaching, working with students through the I Have a Dream program in D.C.

Five years ago, Denise and her husband moved to New Haven, and she started tutoring at New Haven Reads shortly thereafter, in January 2016. “What I found was the best program I’ve ever seen — it is truly amazing,” Denise shared.

Denise’s students would likely describe her in the same way: truly amazing. She gets to know her students and cares deeply about all of them, and her commitment to helping others goes beyond just the hour-long tutoring sessions.

Recently, one of her students, a 6th grader in Hamden, was studying the Civil Rights Movement for class. Denise helped him carry out more research on the topic, and one day he asked her to come and talk to his class about it.

She had some reservations. “I am a white person who had grown up in New York State, so I thought that I might not be the best person,” she admitted. But her student wanted her to, and so she did more than just come to class. She created and brought her own posters and planned a lesson about the Civil Rights Movement, and at the end, she answered questions from the other students in his class.

“It was just wonderful,” Denise said about her day at school.

But even the more ordinary days are wonderful in her view. “The special moments are breakthrough days — when a child who has had trouble settling down, one day just starts to be more attentive,” she shared.

When asked for an example of one of these special moments, several immediately come to her.

“I think of a girl I worked with for a few years. She was a reluctant reader, and usually chose books that were not too challenging, but one day, she chose a biography from the ‘Who Was…’ series,” she recounted. “I was so excited that she was making such a mature choice!”

She thought longer before sharing about another student: “Her parents were immigrants from Egypt. She was my student in the fall of 2016, during the election. She was very frightened, but we were able to talk about how her family was safe, and she began to feel better and better.”

These moments stick with Denise, oftentimes years and years later. Moments like these, though distinctly memorable, are not the only ones that she cherishes, however. Every part of the tutoring process is crucial and meaningful, Denise explained.

“The most gratifying and fulfilling part about tutoring might be watching the child develop their reading skills, but the heart of tutoring for me is when the kids are curious about something we read — or even a word in a workbook — and we can have a conversation about it,” she reflected. “Sometimes, I grab an atlas or a globe so the child can see the geography of what they are learning about — even those little Lexia cartoons, which have the coral reef or Japan!”

After talking about her love for her students and the tutoring process, Denise starts to discuss the program itself. The beauty of the program, she feels, lies in its meticulous organizational structure and its excellent staff.

“From the moment I step into Bristol and am greeted by name, to being reminded who I am working with that day, to computer help, to academic help, to help rearranging space to suit a specific child’s needs — every member of the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and eager to solve the issue,” Denise explained.

Denise remains consistently humble, attributing her positive experiences and wonderful sessions to her students, to the staff, and to the program. In reality, these components only partially contribute to the success of the tutoring sessions. Through Denise’s responses, it quickly becomes clear that she is the key component. Her empathy, passion, and tenacity create the dozens of special moments, both the extraordinary and the ordinary ones.

She ends the conversation on a modest note when asked about receiving the “Above and Beyond” appreciation from her site staff: “I have only volunteered two times a week, so I don’t consider myself ‘above and beyond’ at all!” We at New Haven Reads disagree. We are all so thankful for Denise’s impressive “Above and Beyond” dedication to our students.