Tutor Spotlight: Jen Woda Finds a New Rhythm in the Virtual Classroom

When the pandemic hit, virtual tutor Jen Woda had already been quarantining for months. 

In September 2019, she had a kidney transplant. All was going well but before she could get out in the world again, COVID struck and her weakened immune system isolated her more than most. 

Jennifer Woda is an opera singer. Her lungs are her livelihood and the mezzo soprano has performed extensively with the Cleveland Opera on Tour, Lyric Opera Cleveland Educational Outreach, Opera Circle and many more. 

She’s married to Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton and is the Director of Sing and Swing, early childhood music and movement classes. 

As a singer who couldn’t go on stage and an early childhood music educator who couldn’t go into the classroom, Jen found herself with so much free time that she had to find a new outlet to interact with others. 

Tutoring virtually gave her the chance to interact safely, and make good use of her quarantine time. 

Mezzo Soprano Jennifer Woda and husband Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Brian Thornton

Q&A with Jen Woda

How did you hear about Seeds?

Twitter! I”m also friends with (VP of Programming) Carmine. Our daughters danced together. It was so cute because my Madelyn was only 5 and Azariah (Virtual Student Engagement Coordinator at Seeds) was maybe 15 at the time. 

Tell us about the Seeds Tutor Training. 

The training was good. It was brief and hit all the important points. Since volunteers are working with adults, it was helpful to get some guidance on the best way to communicate and to individualize our help for each student’s needs. 

Did you have any expectations prior to becoming a tutor? 

I didn’t really have any expectations about who I would be working with, I was just excited to meet new people since I have been (quarantining) at home for so long. 

Tell us about your experience tutoring. 

I signed up for one morning a week, and I’m on call for one afternoon in the week. My kids (18 & 13) both have online school so I have to be available for them as well. 

I have one student I work with when she comes but I have also had the opportunity to work with a variety of people  when she doesn’t log on. I like both experiences. 

What surprises you about tutoring? What’s your favorite subject to tutor?

It’s impressive how hard they work! I never studied as much or as hard as the students I work with do. I’m amazed at their dedication. 

I like tutoring science and math. I’ve always loved science, and my father was a science teacher. Tutoring math helps me remember how to do it. Often the students are better at arithmetic than I am. I’m good at process, but not the nitty gritty. We learn it together.

How does low literacy impact individuals?

Reading well and understanding what you read is the foundation to success. There are so many real life circumstances that if you don’t understand what you read, you will be at a disadvantage. Banks, car dealerships, phone contracts, the doctor’s office, politics….it goes on and on. Quality of life for any individual will be improved when literacy improves. 

Many potential volunteers are burned out from tutoring their own children during the pandemic. What would you say to encourage them to tutor at Seeds?

It’s a lot easier to tutor adults than it is your own kids! This is a very rewarding experience. 

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  • Watch Jen perform with cellist husband Brian Thornton and soprano Jennifer Brogmagen
  • Favorite Operas:  Carmen and Marriage of Figaro
  • Family Life: Jen and husband Brian work hard to be the best parents they can be to biracial children, preparing them to live in the world as Jewish Black Women. Their adoption story was published in the Cleveland Jewish News. 
  • On Social Media: Instagram @singandswingneo and Facebook /singandswing
  • In February 2022, I went to the grocery store for the first time in 3 years. I had to have 5 vaccinations just to make the antibodies I needed to safely leave my home

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