Each month, the Tutor Spotlight will feature a Sunshine Method Tutor who has gone above and beyond to engage with and inspire students to reach their fullest potential. Read on to meet our change-makers!
We had the opportunity to chat with our Sunshiner Cherie about her mission to make a difference in the lives of underserved children. Cherie understands the challenges children encounter in school and is actively working to provide them with quality education through emotional support and mentorship.
Join our conversation below:
Tell us a little about yourself!
Well, I've been an educator for 28 years. I fell into it really early in life because my mom was a social worker. She would take me with her to transition children who were difficult to transition into care when I was a teenager. So, coming from an underserved community and being around children who were in crisis situations, I knew that I could do more through education. I chose it at that time and I've only taught underserved children and especially children with diagnoses.
I had been retired from teaching for a while, but I felt, during the pandemic, that there was this real gap opening where children were being underserved. I realized that myself from having a child with a diagnosis and an IEP. I realized that he was definitely being underserved, so if I felt that within myself, I knew parents would be dealing with that for the foreseeable future.
I've been [tutoring] since March here with the Sunshine Method. It's really the first time for me, like a moment where I feel really fulfilled-- like I'm in my place. I'm in the place where I am making the most difference.
And a fun fact. I guess I am one of those people that doesn't really do a lot of introspection with myself. I'm the kind of person that thinks of others. I like to make people smile.
What motivates you to tutor or mentor children and your community?
What motivates me is when a child has been really struggling something, and then they get it, and they start to build this confidence like, ‘oh, I can do this’ and ‘I can answer this.’ For me, that's my motivation. Those moments where you see a child finally light up and understand that they can learn.
A lot of times, especially if they're in high school, they've been told all along that they can't learn or they have diminished in some way. So, when they realize with me that they really can learn and become successful learners-- for me, it's huge. It's why I'm here and why I became a tutor. It's those moments, those crucial moments with every student. And when I see my students succeed, some of them are in college right now, and I see where they started from. I always tell them this is [their] starting line. It does not determine where you can finish and I'm here to support that
That's incredible! We love those lightbulb moments too, and even made it our logo. What is your favorite thing about The Sunshine Method?
I always tell people this is the first time in the education field that I really feel like I'm in the right place. I'm in this moment where I always refer to it as a “God moment.” [It felt] instinctual, like I was going into my place, my element.
What's great about the Sunshine Method is that they don't just support children, they actually support their educators. Especially with Ariana on the team, she really goes above and beyond to make sure that we are heard and that we get help if we need it, or if we have questions, things can get answered. That's new to me because usually I'm an advocate and fighting alone for a child, but now I feel I'm also advocated for.
It's almost like a team effort for every child that’s here. That is what’s really, really special about this company. For me, I haven't seen this in the 28 years that I've been [an educator], and I've been in different cities. Being an educator and [having] a place where not only children are heard, but how I want to advocate for a child is also heard. They're just as enthusiastic about helping their tutors become successful if they need it.
You've been teaching for a while now. Can you describe the best experience you have had working with a child?
Oh, there's so many! There are too many to count. For every child that I try to reach, the only time I'm not successful is when I can't get access to the child. Any other time I'm successful, I'm driven in that way so every child has that golden moment for me if I'm having access to them. There are so many times when I have a child and they are coming to me in absolute tears and they're going through something. At the end of the day, if they are smiling and happy, there's that moment.
And then there are moments where I'm told that a student doesn't really speak, can't really talk, communicate, but they can emote like with one of my students. He's not a very verbal child, but he has really been struggling with algebra. He is now at grade level and maybe even above Florida standards. When he gets it now he goes, ‘oh wow!’ In those moments where they're achieving goals and succeeding past them, their reactions are my golden moments and I try to have them with every child.
What role do you believe education plays in a child's life?
Education is the doorway toward their future. It is not just the keys and the tools for them to be able to achieve success in life or their hopes and dreams. I tell my students that they can go to college. [One student] told me that she felt that college wasn't a part of her future, and I told her that it most certainly can be. Now she believes that and she's working towards those goals. She [also] wants to join her brother at college. In those moments where I educate them, I let them know how important it is for them to reach their goals through education-- because I have.
I'm also an example [that] you can come from an underserved community where education is not important. So, I tell them, ‘listen, I've been in those situations where I've come from an underserved community. I lived in a really, really dangerous neighborhood.’ I let them know that they can achieve their dreams. My dream was to become an educator and that's why I'm here. It allows them to see an example that education is the key to your future. And I let them know that I'm there to support that dream.
If you feel comfortable sharing, what is something that you've had to overcome?
I came from an underserved community. My mom was a single mom and in the community that I grew up with, one-out-of-three children didn't make it to teenage years or past teenagers. I had that with my own brother. I lost my brother during that time to gun violence.
I also had a lot of health issues growing up. I was in and out of hospitals when I was a kid. So, I look for those kids that have to deal with being sickly, along with anxiety and missing parts of school. When you've missed parts of school because you've had health issues then you're trying to go back in. I know how that feels. I also know what it feels like to be in a community where you are given up on before you even get to start. If you have difficult challenges, people are just not invested in you. That motivates me to give that to a child because I know what that feels like with them because I've been in that community. I've been in those situations. I also know what it's like to struggle with a subject and then finally years later, have a teacher who invested in me to teach me.
Because of my experiences, I really feel that they have made me a better educator. I wouldn't trade any of them, as much as they were hard then, they have given me access to tools to understand how a child feels in these situations, and allow me to speak to it within them so that they know when they look at me, that it doesn’t determine their future. You can overcome all of that and be whatever you want in life, but you have to do the harder work. With education, you also have to seek out people who will invest in your education and advocate for that.
I always tell my parents or my caregivers that they are their child's greatest advocate and never to stop advocating. My mom was my advocate. I am my own children's advocate, so if I had to overcome anything in my life, it has served me today. And it has made me a better educator, especially in this company, because I can be an example that education can allow you to achieve. I also let them know that I know how they feel, because I really do.
Thank you for sharing that Cherie. What do you think it takes to be a Sunshine Method tutor?
Willingness to show up.
I think for me, I have found new challenges. New challenges that I haven't seen before with parents and caregivers. Not with children because I've seen them a lot with behaviors, I've seen a lot with learning how they learn differently. I've seen it all, but with parents and caregivers, there are some new challenges. It takes a willingness to show up and to meet each challenge as an ability to learn and make me a better educator. I am willing to be teachable, even though I'm a teacher. I'm willing to be teachable if it means that I can reach a child and help them.
There are moments, honestly, where I [feel] I may not be able to utilize these skills to be able to explain or get through to a parent or a caregiver, but I find myself meeting those challenges. When I get past them, it makes me a better person. It takes a willingness to show up, regardless of the challenges that you're met with, and then also to seek out a way to reach the child through the challenges.
Do you have any tips or strategies when you're working with a child in person or online to keep them engaged?
I make sure to provide them with an interest-based learning platform. It's important to communicate with each student, regardless of their age. I have students in 1st grade all the way to 10th grade. I communicate with them and reach them at their level of communication. It's important to do that. I'd like to allow them to chat. I have students that can't sit still. I don't require it. They can't sit still? I don't require it. I don't require for you to sit still to learn our lessons.
I do all of my tutoring online. I have parents that have told me that their children have anxiety about tutoring. I will change the environment. I speak to the child and say, ‘Listen, I can still help you achieve goals, but I'm going to turn the control over to you. You are going to choose the time limit that you're working on. You're going to choose the learning platform that you're learning on today.’
Because I can plug in state standards in any platform. If a child wants to play games that day, I have [educational games]. So, let's say the subject area is math. If they suffer with anxiety issues, I use Splash Learn. I can put in the Florida State standards on their subject, whether it's algebra or division. Then they can work on that curriculum in a stress-free environment where they're playing games and don't know that they're reaching academic goals. They're thinking they're just playing games, but they were actually working on state standards curriculum.
If I'm meeting with a child who is not responding in one way, I’ll find another way that they can respond. Communicate with them. ‘Do you like this? Do you like learning this?’ If a child is not liking what they're doing, they won't be engaged in it-- they'll tune out.
When I'm doing my first introductory session, I also look because I am showing them platforms. I'm showing them all the learning platforms that I'm thinking we will be using. And I'm looking for specific ways that they're tuning out, so if I pull up a video from Khan Academy, let's say, and they are watching it for a minute and then they're glassy-eyed. I'm like, ‘OK, I'll write down, make sure it's 30 seconds or less that they're looking at a video, because if they see a video longer than 30 seconds, then they're no longer taking in information.’
For me, I have communication with them, interest-based themes, and time limits. I look for time limits when they are no longer plugged in. I look to see how they are learning. When I show them different learning environments, I asked them which ones they like the most. We will use those.
These are great resources! What advice would you give to other tutors?
Every child is an opportunity for me to be taught how to teach them. I have to know how they learn. I've never been a stickler for a child having to sit down and listen to me. When I was in the classroom, if I had a child who didn't want to sit at the desk, that’s okay. I had a calming zone area that allowed them to sit in an area where there were pillows or blankets, but at the end of the day, they were answering their questions successfully. They were able to learn in their environment, I create an environment where a child can learn. I have to remain teachable for them to tell me how to do that, and I have to be open to all challenges that I'm presented with to have a successful outcome.
What are your hopes for your students in the future?
What they hope and dream for their life.
What they hope and dream for their future, is what mine is fueled by. I hope that they always know that they can learn. I hope that I give them the tools so that they can adapt to every situation that is challenging. And know that if they meet it with a willingness to learn and a willingness to do hard work, they can be successful learners without me, completely on their own.
In the future, my overall hope for every child is that they don’t need me anymore. I've given them the keys and the tools for their future and that they can do this on their own confidently. They can create those, what I call light-up moments, on their own.
Ultimately, I want to give them tools to adapt to environments or adapt to social situations or to seek out using libraries or seeking out information. To seek out the information you don't get in your education system so that you can become a successful learner. I know that when I see a child say, ‘well, I was pulling up that site when we were not in session.’ and ‘I was looking at this and I was trying to do this on my own.’ That is my hope for all of them.
Thank you for reading, and thank you, Cherie, for your contributions and impact on the next generation!