The Wizard’s Wardrobe - where reading is magic!
In June 2014
A group of members from Albany's First Presbyterian Church who had been volunteering in Giffen Memorial Elementary School (GMES) to support teachers in the classroom were inspired by the TED talk “Once Upon a School”, and set out to establish a one-to-one after-school tutoring program in the South End. They incorporated one year later as the South End Neighborhood Tutors (S.E.N.T) and looked for a space to build the program.
Our name emerged in 2015, when we were talking about another tutoring program, 826 National, where each tutoring location had a unique, whimsical name. One of the members of our group combined part of the title of C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” with the wizardry story of “Harry Potter” and came up with the Wizard’s Wardrobe. This led us to imagine our study area as a special place, entered by passing through a wardrobe, much like the children in C.S. Lewis’ story entering Narnia through the professor’s wardrobe.
In the Spring of 2016
Began planning the renovation of space leased from the Albany Housing Authority one block east of GMES. This space was large enough for our needs and conveniently located, but it had been the industrial kitchen for the Meals on Wheels program, and it needed extensive renovation. A $50,000 renovation began in October 2016, tutors were recruited and the program was planned . More than 30 volunteers assisted in the renovation.
Alongside the facility planning and renovation, a retired, certified teacher supported the building of a research-based literacy framework of materials, activities, and strategies for tutors to be trained in and to use with students, in an after-school creative learning environment.
In February 2017 - May 2017
We opened our doors to seven (7) students, and “The Wizard’s Wardrobe — Where Reading is Magic!,” became a reality. It is a safe space and its imaginative theme aims to remove perceived stigmas associated with going to a tutoring center.
October 2017 to May 2018
Was our first full year offering. Over 20 trained tutors worked with 10 students in the first year. Our first year ended in the publication of students’ writing, giving them the opportunity to see the impact of their own work.
In the 2018-19 school year
30+ trained tutors provided individualized tutoring to 16 students. The Wizard’s Wardrobe hired its first part-time Executive Director, and maintained a dedicated corps of community volunteers to offer our students individualized attention and cultivate a welcoming and creative after-school learning environment, focused on strengthening literacy skills so children can experience the magic of reading, succeed in school, and lead productive and healthy lives.
School year was interrupted in March 2020 by school closings in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our tutors and students shifted to working remotely through one-to-one Zoom sessions and tutoring continued – transformed but uninterrupted. Thirty (30) trained tutors provided individualized tutoring to 17 students. Bags of learning supplies, puzzles, and games were brought to students at their homes.
Despite the pandemic, Remote tutoring continued through the 2020-2021 school year, and the Wizard’s Wardrobe even added students to bring the total to 19.
The 2021-2022 school year
Brought a return to in-person one-to-one tutoring for 19 students with all the customary Covid precautions – plexiglass screens, air filters, masks, health checks for students and tutors, and of course hand sanitizer for all.