Student had prescription for tutoring math needy

May 26, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Thanks to Renee Hilliard, my days of being asked to help my nieces, nephews, cousins and grandkids with math may be over.

About 10 years ago, when my baby sister asked me to tutor my niece in geometry, I was nearly overcome with what, in medical terms, is called "syncope and collapse."

That would be fainting in plain, simple, everyday-people English. Yes, I had gotten an A in geometry during my sophomore year at Baltimore City College. And I had a darned fun time doing it, too. Our teacher had this wonderful policy of allowing those students who maintained a 90-or-better average to bypass the final exam.

"Gregory, do you want to go home?" he asked the day of the final.

"Let me think about that a while - yeah," I answered, adding a "Have fun, guys" farewell to my classmates as I walked out the door.

When I tutored my niece, my A in geometry was a 30-year-old A. When my grandson takes geometry at City College in the fall, my A will be a 40-year-old A.

Thank heavens Hilliard thought of starting the tutoring program A Bridge to Academic Excellence.

A little over two weeks ago I wrote about ABAE. In the column I said that Margaret Hayes, the academic adviser for ABAE, thought of the idea. Hayes says that was a misquote: The credit for thinking of ABAE should go to Hilliard. The story goes something like this:

After teaching biology, physics and trigonometry for six years at Mount Zion Baptist Christian School, Hilliard decided to enroll in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. But she found that she missed her students, some of whom she also tutored after school. And she remembered the subjects that gave them the most trouble.

"You have so many students who are weak in mathematics," Hilliard said. "They had a great need for help in math and sciences."

So Hilliard thought of the idea for a tutoring program. In April of 2000 she wrote a proposal and took it to pharmacy school administrators, who approved it. She found fellow students who were ready, willing and eager to tutor. Hilliard had a plan. She had bodies. She had tons of enthusiasm.

What she didn't have was money.

So she went to Hayes, the director for student services and outreach at the pharmacy school, and asked her to act as academic adviser for the program and to seek advice about how to fund it. Hayes didn't have any money either, but she knew how to get it.

Hayes wrote a grant and got the funding. Hilliard said it is Hayes who has been the one most responsible for the program lasting seven years.

Hilliard and Hayes are responsible for my not having to blow the cobwebs off some 30- or 40-year-old math A's while trying to tutor some youngster struggling with geometry or algebra. Thanks to Hilliard, area students can enroll in ABAE and find tutors who have 4-year-old and 5-year-old A's in math.

Hilliard comes by her zeal to help the math-afflicted honestly. Much of it stems from her faith as a devout Christian. Her parents - whom Hilliard described as "very giving, helpful people" - own Mount Zion Baptist Christian School. Hilliard got her bachelor's degree in pre-med biology from Oral Roberts University.

"I planned to be a doctor originally," said Hilliard, who graduated from Baltimore's Western High School in 1986. But a visit to a medical school and watching the students make their rounds forced her to reconsider. Hilliard admitted she was uncomfortable having to watch some patients naked. (I feel the same way, except about my own body.)

So, she taught at her parents' school after leaving Oral Roberts, all the while pondering what she should do with that biology degree. Her decision to attend pharmacy school came about almost serendipitously - during a visit to her neighborhood Rite Aid.

"My pharmacist talked me into becoming a pharmacist," Hilliard said.

Today she's a clinical pharmacist. Part of her duties include reviewing patients' medical charts and making recommendations to physicians about which drugs are best suited for the patients' recovery. And watching patients recover is the most rewarding part of the job for Hilliard.

"Nothing feels better than to see a patient come in, sickly, near death, and then walk out totally on his own power," Hilliard said.

For me, nothing feels better than knowing there's a tutoring program around that I can steer my young relatives to when they need academic help. Hilliard, with one brilliant idea seven years ago, has saved my time and my sanity. I'd put her in my will, if I had any money. But nonmonetary riches are just as important to Hilliard.

"I genuinely feel that God has been good to me" she said. "When you see children that don't have the advantages you have, you want to go back and pull them through."

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