“I was showing them different opportunities that they could provide to students that you don’t have to continue school for, design, entrepreneurship,” said Toussaint, “To say, ‘hey even if you don’t like school, just take advantage of it.’ Learn the system.”
Edwin Toussaint is the founder of Edworks Tutoring, a small, grant funded-organization that “helps create a pathway for students to become the scholars of tomorrow and leaders in their communities” with a current concentration in the neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn.
Brownsville, in School District 23, is considered exceedingly low in proficiency by the city’s Department of Education (DOE). A drastic disparity issue the incoming Schools Chancellor David Banks had worked to correct with his all-boys public school Eagle Academy for Young Men in Brownsville.
Toussaint, like Banks, is a Brooklyn native that was born and raised in Flatbush. He had aspirations of being a football player but always struggled in school. Once he discovered tutoring services, he was dedicated to helping students like him reach their potential. He encouraged his students to consider alternatives to fixed contact sports. “Tennis,” laughed Toussaint. “I was trying to get the kids into fencing at one point and they was like ‘no, you doing too much.’”
He said a big hurdle for him early on was establishing trust between Brownsville residents and the services his organization provides. “They need consistency. They’re going to test you,” said Toussaint, “but that’s a great way to learn people and there’s so many great hearts out there.”
Toussaint worked with a tutoring service and in the superintendent’s office in Brownsville before getting laid off. He began Edworks Tutoring shortly after in the summer of 2019 and was just getting started when the COVID-19 crisis hit. But, he was inspired to reach out to the community in Brownsville and host education events with immense support from elected officials Assemblymember Latrice Walker and Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuels.
“It feels like home to me because I know so many great people that are willing to help the community. There’s so much organization and support in Brownsville, but Brownsville itself doesn’t know. The organizations don’t know how to talk to the people,” said Toussaint.
Edworks Tutoring consists of volunteers who are licensed teachers, committed to helping as many students during the COVID-19 pandemic. They conduct small group tutoring sessions of 3 to 4 students for 45 minutes twice a week. The service operated in about seven different schools.
Throughout 2019, he said that the students’ experience level and access to technology was a real eye opener to the lack of resources in the community.
“Having a safe space to do work was hard,” said Toussaint, “Some had multiple siblings, sometimes they would break the tablet, so they couldn’t get another one for months. There were times when some of the students couldn’t get online because of the weak internet in public housing. They’d have to go into McDonalds.”
At one point, Toussaint fashioned a technology and online writing skills tutorial for parents to bring them up to speed during the pandemic. He created other family engagement activities for students that didn’t have great home lives. He also helped use a gaming service on Twitch to connect students and parents in an innovative and fun way.
Toussaint said his future plans (depending on the COVID-variant wave) are to get back into the schools and be face-to-face for students that are more kinetic learners and struggle with remote schooling.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1