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Teacher takes alternative route to focus on the whole child

(Courtesy of Growing Minds)

Carlos Stewart is the founder of Growing Minds, a virtual reading and math tutoring business that tailors its curriculum to the specific needs and goals of the child. Growing Minds offers weekly one-on-one tutoring sessions to youth in grades K-6.

Stewart first worked for several years as a behavioral specialist at a middle school, which inspired him to pursue a masters degree in literacy education at Hamline University in 2018. Stewart says after working in the classroom for several years, the pandemic showed him the benefits of working in a capacity where he could be widely accessible and not bound to a particular physical space or system in his work. He says virtual teaching inspired him to rethink education and begin his own online tutoring business.

“I noticed some young folks really needed that online piece of it. It just kind of took off,” said Stewart. “Sometimes I do in person tutoring. But just to be able to do my creative way of teaching has been very fun for me. So, that's where I am today.”

Stewart says his experience of being born in a predominantly Black neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri and being raised in a predominantly white neighborhood in Minnesota, inspired his decision to take an alternative approach to education. Stewart says youth are left hanging after the bell rings.

“The systemic elements play into schooling and especially amongst Black and brown kids. I realized that the traditional capacity wasn't what I wanted to do specifically for that reason. We’re constantly learning and that learning doesn't only exist within the four walls of school,” he said.

Stewart says he saw his fellow teachers attempt to make changes to support the whole child within the system. He realized it would be best for him to work independently.

“There are phenomenal teachers who are doing some great work in the classroom who are trying to implement these things,” he said. “But again, their hands are tied from the powers that be. They have to answer to certain people... For me, I know what works for young people.”

Stewart says his tutoring business relieves him of the pressure faced by traditional school teachers in meeting their quotas. He says by working independently he can focus on the development of the “whole child.”

“I just don't roll out a curriculum. I do take from different pieces of curriculums, but I feel like I invest in what the young person needs,” Stewart said. “Teaching isn’t just bound to a classroom anymore. It can be anywhere that you want to be and I think that's just phenomenal for young people. I'm not just teaching about math and literacy. I'm teaching about life skills.”

Stewart says he makes direct connections with the parents to help support their children's educational needs and life goals. He says his independent teaching route allows him to take a mentorship approach, giving him and the student the freedom to redefine what a learning environment is.

“There’s all these different pieces I'm able to offer young people in this space–virtually or in person. Now we're out in this young person's environment. Let's meet at a local coffee shop. Let's walk the neighborhood, let's have our tutoring session at a local park… Teaching isn’t bound to a classroom anymore.”

Stewart says in his time as a traditional public school educator, he heard a lot of talk about equity. Stewart says the best approach to equity for young people is to listen to them.

“I just really care about how they progress and meeting them where they are to really get them to where they want to go.” Stewart continues. “I’m investing in these young people every single day.”

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