Webster literacy tutor breaks language barriers with music


Junior education major Logan Furey spends two afternoons a week playing jazz music with middle schoolers at Hancock Place Middle School. He spent every day last summer practicing flashcards with a fourth grader at Gateway Middle School during recess. On the last day of summer school, Furey brought in a drum set, guitar, amplifier, tambourine and a microphone to set up a jam session in the cafeteria for the students.

These are all experiences Furey had through the student literacy corp (SLC) at Webster. He has worked as a reading and writing tutor with students from age seven to 70 as a K-12 literacy tutor and an adult tutor for those pursuing their GED.

Furey takes an individualized approach to tutoring. He said the first time he meets a student, regardless of their age, he just tries to get to know them first before setting out to accomplish anything.

“It’s taking people where they are, without judgement and where they want to be, and kind of bridging that gap,” Furey said. “Without devaluing a person, and without intimidating a person.”

The SLC has been at Webster since 1990. The SLC trains and places reading tutors to work with both children and adults. SLC tutors provide one-on-one support to students at approximately 30 different schools and other educational sites (such as after-school and adult education programs) throughout the St. Louis community.

According to Kate Northcott, director of the SLC, their mission puts an emphasis on placing tutors in low income and high need school districts.

Northcott said Furey is a tutor that goes above and beyond for the students he tutors.

“In the course of his relationship with [Hancock Place] he has done all sorts of additional things that are not part of his work study job that he doesn’t get paid for,” Northcott said. “Giving private music lessons to students of the school who could not possibly afford them and assisting with their after-school music group Jazz Catz.”

Furey said there is a large population of immigrant students at Hancock Place where English is not their first language. He said many of these students struggle with reading and writing comprehension, so for him music was a unique way to unite students regardless of language barriers

LOGAN FUREY/Contributed Photo. Furey was awarded by Hancock Place Middle School for his work above and beyond with students. Furey plans to become a science teacher after graduating from Webster in 2020.

“Music is a life force. I think the creative expression in music is something that’s accessible to all and transcends language barriers,” Furey said. “Music is a really nice way for them to express themselves in a group setting, without getting stuck on words or not quite speaking the language as fluently as other people.”

Fellow SLC literacy tutor and junior Kathleen Schmidt has worked with a wide variety of students through her time with the SLC. She agrees that teaching students where English is their second language requires a unique approach.

“I’ve worked with kids from Iran, Bosnia, China, Nigeria, just about everywhere,” Schmidt said. “I’ve learned teaching as a two-way street is what works best. I learn while I teach them. They tell me the word in their language and then I tell them the English version so we’re both learning.”

Furey started as a literacy tutor with the SLC his freshman year and has been working in the same classroom with the same teacher, Paul Keil, at Hancock Place Middle School ever since.

“I got placed with Paul Keil from the beginning and [Northcott] said, ‘I know just the guy for you you’ll either love him or you’ll hate him, he’s just like you,’” Furey said. “He’s got this very holistic approach to teaching. He’s there to teach people to be good people.”

Furey and Keil bonded over their mutual love for music. Keil also got Furey involved with the Jazz Catz and convinced him to switch his major from music education to science education.

While Furey still thinks music education is important, he realized at Hancock Place that he could teach music in and outside of the traditional classroom setting.

“After working with me and this the [Jazz Catz] he has learned that he doesn’t need to be a music teacher to incorporate music in his teaching,” Keil said. He understands that after school programs like this are maybe more fun because there’s no grade associated with it.”

Furey’s dedication to tutoring students through the literacy program and volunteering to help out with the Jazz Catz music program brought him a Certificate of Recognition from the Hancock Place school district board for his two plus years of helping students on a volunteer basis.

“Ever since I started it has been the best part of my week every week,” Furey said. “I leave that place so happy. [On the drive there] I think wow if I could do this every day I’d be pretty happy.”

Northcott said she believes Furey will make an exceptional teacher once he graduates. She also explained that he is not interested in working in the most affluent and best equipped schools, which reflects the core mission of the SLC.

“In the big circle of people who want to be good teachers there’s a small subset of people who want to and can teach middle school,” Northcott said. “I’m so glad he’s there because he wants to serve the kids that need him the most and he has such a passion for [teaching]. It’s hard not to be kind of infected by [his passions] when you’re around him because he really is excited.”

Keil agreed that Furey will make a difference in whatever school district he decides to teach at once he graduates in May 2020.

“He’s got a really big heart and positive energy towards students. He thinks of them as his number one. It’s never about him,” Keil said. “Any school district would be really lucky to have him.”  an

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