I just bumped into a TAG (Talented and Gifted Program) assistant teacher in the elevator of the Wheatley Building. The mission of TAG and its companion program, Project ALERTA, is to ensure that Boston Public School Latino and English Language Learner students excel academically, socially, and personally to improve their ability to succeed in high school and at the post secondary levels.
The programs work with a spectrum of Latino and ELL youth, from those who are high-achieving and college-bound to those who have dropped out of school. Their philosophy is that every student is talented and gifted and it is the responsibility of adults and educators to help students discover, develop, and manifest their talents and gifts.
Clad in his TAG tee shirt with its unmistakable logo, the teacher I met embodied the high energy and optimism of the program’s participants. They stream on to campus for a few weeks in July for intensive study and they radiate our buildings and plazas with laughter and ambition. This staffer carried a basket full of granola bars. I said to him, “Oh, you’re a TAG teacher, what are your granola bars all about?” “They are for the students,” he answered and then added, “for those that have done a good job on their homework.”
When is a granola bar about much more than a granola bar?
When it is given to you by a TAG teacher, by someone who is deeply devoted to your success and helps you reach within to understand the fullness of your intellectual and social capacities. So the gift of the bar is really the gift of educational opportunity. It is bestowed in the classroom of a welcoming university that recognizes the power of education to transform lives, families, and through them, communities.
So when our TAG students think about the possibility of a college education, they have already had the experience of achievement on a college campus. The foreignness of a big, scary UNIVERSITY, is lovingly rubbed away, so what is left is familiar territory that could . . . maybe . . . someday . . . feel like home.
How did the TAG and ALERTA programs, the former now entering its 27th year, get to be so good at what they do? By a university that has steadfastly supported them, by the investment of individual, public, corporate and foundation donors, and most remarkably, by the vision of the programs’ founders.
But sadly, my elevator encounter stimulated a feeling of emptiness because one of those founders, Lucia Mayerson-David, passed away in January of a ravenous cancer. The hot humidity of the July afternoon harkened me back to a year ago, when we hosted a Boston Leaders Day for the programs which helped our young participants connect with city leaders. Lucia had warmly welcomed them and captivated the architects, bankers, and social entrepreneurs with both the charisma of our pre-collegiate programs and the evidence of their success.
I became acquainted with Lucia through our fundraising efforts, but certainly didn’t have the decades long relationship that she shared with so many former students. I just “sort of” knew Lucia.
The depth of her influence on so many was evident at a surprise birthday party the program hosted only a few months before her untimely death. Her illness had not been revealed to anyone.
Still the picture of health and spirit, Lucia reveled in the parade of people who came to the microphone to tell their “Lucia story.”
Not typically a “podium ” person, somehow I found myself joining the line for testimonials. I told Lucia that it was people like her that kept a spark in the fundraising profession for me. She reminded me that all the asks, the rejections, and the occasional, “yeses” to our requests for funding are about more than the cocktail parties, proposals, and the donor tracking systems.
Lucia’s life and vision made it clear that our fundraising is about hope and possibility, as simply represented by a granola bar or as profoundly illustrated by young people who now embrace the uncharted landscape of their minds.
After the TAG teacher exited the elevator and sprinted down the hallway, I held my gratitude for a minute or two. My little speech to Lucia had been my final farewell.
Nan Cormier, M.A. is director of advancement communications