What kind of a doctor are you?

Don Messer with students from Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Don Messer with students from Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

By Divya Wodon and Naina Wodon, Interact Club of Washington International School, and Quentin Wodon, Rotary Club of Washington, D.C.,USA

How come you know so much? What kind of a doctor are you? The child who asked this question to (Dr.) Don Messer is from the Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. The school is located in Anacostia, one of the poorest parts of the city. Until recently, few children passed the mathematics and reading tests, but things have improved, in part because of a tutoring program run by Don.

Six years ago, with the help of the school’s principal, teachers, and a half dozen other Rotarians, Don designed a new tutoring program in the school. He focused on mathematics and reading, and questions asked in standardized tests. This was not to “teach to the test,” but to ensure that children understood the questions well. Don decided to tutor students by small groups of three or four to generate interactions and more learning. The groups meet once or twice a week for the entire school year and classes are held during the school day. The goal is not only to help the students learn, but also to help them understand that there is a future for them that often they didn’t know existed.

When a child asked Don what kind of doctor he was, it was because she knew only of medical doctors and not of all of the other types of doctors that exist. Don believes that he and the other tutors are in a small way opening up a new window to the world for the students. The data suggest that tutored students perform much better than non-tutored students in standardized tests, such as for mathematics.

Over the years, Don and his fellow Rotarian tutors have learned how to connect with the students, how to keep their attention and interact with them, and how to be role models and tutors. At times, the children are noisy, sometimes misbehaving and arguing. But they do value the sessions, and they want to come. There is perhaps no better reward than having a fifth grader tell Don, “You know Dr. Messer, you’re my grandpa.”

Don’s story is part of a new book on Rotary published in April 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan. The book features accounts of exemplary Rotarians. Entitled “Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience,” it also provides a rigorous assessments of the activities of Rotary with a focus on seven questions:

  • What is the membership challenge faced by clubs?
  • Who are their members, and how satisfied are they with their club experience?
  • How can areas for growth be identified?
  • How can clubs innovate to attract and retain members?
  • How much service work do clubs engage in?
  • What types of work do they do, and what makes projects successful?
  • And finally, how can district conferences be more engaging?

As Peter Kyle, the governor for District 7620, put it, “the book should be required reading for members of service clubs around the world.”

If you read the book, available from macmillan, let us know what you thought about it. If you would like to get advice on how to conduct similar research in your district, please let us know as we would be happy to help. You can contact us at wqtjj@yahoo.com.

3 thoughts on “What kind of a doctor are you?

  1. Great story. It is important that kids do know that they have a future. Also, that their future depends on the decisions they make each and every day. Good job, Well done. I volunteer in our local grade school every Tuesday morning at three different classes. They all happen to have a grandchild in each of the three classes. We are working on reading and math. The best morning of the week. I’ll miss it when school is not in session. Keep up the chance for these kids to do better.


  2. Pingback: Today’s Links | Rotary International District 3040

  3. Pingback: What kind of a doctor are you? | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

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