It was about the time I was four and a half years old, an age of curiosity and continuous development. A yellow pencil and pink eraser moving on white, lined paper sparked my eye. My oldest brother was writing in script. I was blown away by graphite and paper, dull and noiseless. I seated myself right next to him on the dusty blue carpet and gazed at the paper as his hand held the pencil and marks appeared. I then quickly ran to the computer desk at the corner of the living room. I had to tiptoe in order to grab what I needed: a piece of paper and a writing instrument. My efforts at duplicating my brother were pretty close, except that my paper had been pierced by the pencil point a few times. By the time kindergarten came around, I was ecstatic to start school. None of my siblings ever were. I was the first.
Learning came easy for me, and as a result, I was engulfed by a world of success. The feeling of achievement became routine, and nothing would stop me from doing otherwise. As I grew older, I had a self-realization of the importance of education in the world we live in and had this hunger to spread it to others. Graduating high school class salutatorian and receiving top honors in all subjects, I attained a full-scholarship to New York University (NYU). There I pursued my Bachelor’s degree in Biology, with minors in Chemistry and Child & Adolescent Mental Health. During my studies at NYU, I became a private tutor to many families in the neighborhood and also worked in a Brooklyn charter school through the America Reads program, where I provided academic assistance to elementary school students in reading, writing, and math. America Reads and Counts is a national campaign, started in the late 1990s, that challenges every American to help children learn to read well and independently and to improve young students’ achievements in mathematics. Working alongside experienced, dedicated, and passionate teachers was a very rewarding experience, and had left a permanent imprint in my work that was to follow.
Fast-forward four years, post-NYU graduation, I underwent extensive training in behavioral therapy/management by clinical psychologists before attaining the position as an ADHD camp counselor for NYU’s Summer Program for Kids (SPK), a program of the NYU Child Study Center, part of Hassenfield’s Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, which treats children with mental health and developmental conditions. SPK is a seven-week, therapeutic program devoted exclusively to children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who are between the ages of 7-11. The majority of these children were also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and/or some type of anxiety disorder. This experience was described to us as “the hardest job you’ll ever love,” and I continue to confirm this to this day. It was absolutely eye-opening and a learning experience that has transferred to all of my work with students, academically and developmentally, thereafter.
Tip-Top Brain was a result of my passion for education, science, and children’s mental health, opening its doors in the Fall of 2015. I always aspired to establish my own learning center, one that diverged from the norm. A center that would believe in every child and their aspirations, where we look beyond school grades and test scores and see the child as who they are and all that they have to offer this world. A center that would not only help each child throughout their academic journeys, but also offer them unique after school, weekend, and summer enrichment opportunities (e.g. STEM/STEAM camps, BrainPress, etc.) that schools do not have the time and/or funds to offer in such small settings. I wanted to create a center that had positivity at its core, where every student is acknowledged on a first-name basis and has a smile on their way in and a feeling of pride and accomplishment on their way out. I believe that building rapport with students is a crucial first step in getting students motivated to learn. When your student feels comfortable with you, they want to be here and they want to ask questions. We joke, we talk, and most importantly, we work together. This is when learning takes place and this is what Tip-Top Brain is all about.
To further widen my knowledge base and support my students in more ways than one, I went on to pursue my Masters (M.S.) degree in Neuroscience and Education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, a program designed to bridge the gap between research underlying the brain, cognition and behavior, and the problems encountered in schools and other applied settings. Graduating with my M.S. degree further ignited my passion for giving my students unique opportunities by creating programs that get students of all ages excited to learn, especially in this technological era that is wiring their very malleable brains in ways very different than in previous generations. We currently know that the extent of its effects are subject to its type, use, and frequency, which have led to shorter attention spans, disturbed sleep patterns, lack of socialization abilities, decrease physical health, behavioral issues, and problems with self-confidence and anxiety in children and adolescents. Consequently, its effects are taking the biggest toll on students’ academics, as all of the aforementioned are critical to one’s ability to focus in class and do well in school. Giving students the opportunity to disconnect in fun and engaging ways in order to minimize technological intake is enough a reason to keep my gears grinding and my creativity at its peak.
It has been twenty-four years since that yellow pencil and lined paper spoke to me for the first time and yet we continue to converse; but now, at a different level. We seem to be inseparable. Without paper, nothing is written. Without a pencil, nothing writes. Without me, there is nothing to be written. I began the story of Tip-Top Brain four years ago and it is an endless composition of my students in my community. It has room for every student and their story. My personal promise to parents like you is that your child will always be surrounded by nurturing and talented instructors that believe in them and their abilities, while also understanding and easing the frustrations they may face at every stage in their academic journeys and development. We are here waiting for you. Waiting to listen. Waiting to inspire. Waiting to motivate. Waiting to lend a hand. Life is what you make of it, so let us help you make it a great one.