They’re not singers. They’re not dancers. They aren’t even brothers, but there’s no question that a Tulsa iteration of “The Jackson Five” has a whole lot of soul.
They give their time, expertise, and love to kids at Unity Learning Academy (formerly Jackson Elementary, hence the Jackson Five) in north Tulsa by coaching third graders in math. All Souls members Ken Seidel, Joe McDonald, Dan Piazzola, Dave Staudt, and Martin Lantz visit Unity at least once a week to coach their “buddies” in math basics in one-on-one, hour-long sessions. Their program is supported by All Souls Partners In Education, commonly known as PIE.
A B C – It’s Easy As 1 2 3
Ken, a retired mechanical engineer, started the program after learning that only 12 percent of Unity kids were performing at their grade level in math. He observed classes at Unity for a year to find out why. “When students reach the third grade they’re introduced to fractions and their thought process has to switch from concrete to abstract. That’s when problems start. For example, they learn that one millionth is less than one tenth, and that’s counter intuitive,” he said. Ken worked with Jackson’s staff to design a program for kids with the lowest math performance scores, then recruited friends from All Souls to coach.
“Ken roped me into it, but I’m really enjoying my math buddy,” Dan Piazzola, a retired geophysicist joked. It took three coaching sessions for his student to realize that it was okay to laugh and joke with him. “He was very quiet and respectful. The third session I made a joke and he was surprised. Since then we’ve gotten along well,” Dan said.
As Simple as Do Re Mi
Math coach Dave Staudt was already volunteering in two north Tulsa programs before becoming a math coach at Jackson. He helps the Code Club at Gilcrease Elementary, which is sponsored by PIE, and a kids’ boxing club sponsored by the Reed Community Foundation. Dave grew up in Tulsa and graduated from Central High School. He spent his career in government Information Technology in Washington, DC. “When I moved back to Tulsa in 2010, it was the first time I heard about the Race Massacre. It was disgraceful. In my own very small way, I’m giving back to north Tulsa to atone for the sins of south Tulsa.”
For Martin Lantz, going to Unity to meet his math buddy was stepping back in time. He grew up in the neighborhood and played ball and participated in Boy Scouts at Jackson. Martin worked in administration for Department of Human Services for the majority of his career. When Ken asked him to be a math coach he was paired with a third grade girl who was below the first grade level in math. “I also struggled with math in school, but people are always better at teaching things that they struggle with,” he said.
Martin’s math buddy also has challenges with reading, confidence, and worries about standardized testing. “I hate it that a little girl in third grade has to be worried about testing. I tell her to not worry about the tests when she is with me, just concentrate on the tasks,” he said.
1 2 3, Do Re Mi, Baby You and Me!
Joe McDonald has volunteered in various programs at Unity for five years and like Martin, is a math buddy for a girl. A retired anesthesiologist, Joe says “I’m used to putting people to sleep.” But watching Joe coach is anything but boring, both coach and student are so engaged. Joe and his wife, Nancy, PIE’s long time leader, have nine grandchildren, but none live in Tulsa. “I think it makes me more open to my work at Unity since I’m not spending time with my own grandchildren,” Joe said. As with all of The Jackson Five, it’s hard to tell who is benefitting the most—the kids or the coaches. As Ken Seidel put it, “It’s amazingly rejuvenating.”
This story is just one story of the impact Partners In Education has in fulfilling the lives of PIE volunteers and the scope of impact of PIE’s three partner schools, Unity Learning Academy, Gilcrease Elementary and McLain 7th Grade Academy.
Sing for Our Schools is a toe-tapping sing along fun-fest where you and the audience are the stars! Although some of our song leaders are well-known Tulsa performers, (uh-hum, Rebecca Ungerman, Thomas Williams, Rebecca Marks Jimerson) they take a back seat to audience members whose enthusiasm is enhanced with adult beverages and light snacks.
Want to know more? Check out 10 Things to Know about PIE!