Mike Munao

CIS Vounteer Mike Munao marks 30 Years!
Mike Munao
Mike Munao with Angel, the student he currently tutors at Nathaniel Alexander.

Not many can claim this accomplishment – one of CIS-Charlotte’s first volunteers who began tutoring students in 1986, our first year in operation – and who has continued to tutor and mentor CIS students for the 30 years since then! That amazing volunteer would be Mike Munao, who is currently volunteering at Nathaniel Alexander Elementary, where he has been tutoring CIS students since the school opened in 1996. Before Nathaniel Alexander, he volunteered with CIS at Cochrane Junior High. Mike still has the original letter he received from CIS in 1986, welcoming him as a volunteer.

Mike faithfully comes to the school once a week to work with his assigned student, typically a 4th or 5th grader. This year, Mike is working with Angel, a 5th grader whom Mike also tutored last year. Angel really looks forward to seeing “Mr. Mike” every week. Angel said that last year, his first quarter grade in Math was a “D” – but Mr. Mike tutored him in Math and he ended the year with a “B”!  The two have definitely developed a strong relationship that is yielding big results for Angel (and Mike would say for him as well).

Here is a recent “Q & A” between Mike and May Johnston, CIS Community Relations Director:

You are one of CIS-Charlotte’s very first volunteers – from way back in 1986 when Communities In Schools (then Cities In Schools) first formed in Charlotte. Volunteering for 30 years with the same organization is pretty amazing… what is it that keeps you coming back every school year?
The results – kids that gain something from my experience. And the opportunity to help them apply in real life what they are taught in the classroom. Showing them that we do care about their success and encouraging them to be themselves while complying with life’s rules and peer pressures.

How did you first learn about Communities In Schools and get connected to the organization?
I was introduced by an IBM office mate that was talking about this new program IBM and CMS were initiating in Charlotte. At the time I was heavily involved with coaching soccer with CMS and thought this might be another avenue for me to help my community. Once I met Cynthia Marshall [CIS-Charlotte’s founding Executive Director] – well, “no” was just not an acceptable answer for her!

Would you have an idea of how many students you’ve tutored through CIS over the years?
I would say over 40, since sometimes in the past I have worked with two students at a time (during a school year).

How do you spend most of your time when you are working with a student? Is it all academics (math, reading, homework) or do you get to know them in other ways? What do you think are the greatest benefits your students have received from your weekly commitment of time with them?
I try and provide a good mix of both common interests and academic requirements. I restore antique cars and am a big sports fan, so I try and connect with those interests along with applying school to those subjects to grow our relationship. I will bring in newspaper or magazine articles to help with reading and to apply math. If they understand how to apply what they learn, they are more motivated to grow. For example: How well did Lebron James do last night with his shot percentage or if I give you $20 and you go to Walmart to buy 3 CD’s at $8 each – do you have enough money and if so, what should your change be? They very quickly can see how school applies to real life.

How have you benefited from working with students in this way? Any “lessons” your students have taught you? What’s been the best part about volunteering through CIS?
Personally it grounds me. I love seeing the kids grow. It keeps me current with new teaching methods and helps me remain sharp on current events (works my brain). It reminds me of what is important in life – caring and sharing knowledge and experience with the next generation. Every new student opens up a different world to me that I normally would not get to experience (good and bad). I also was on the CIS Board of Directors back in 1992 and 1993 representing IBM. Great experience for me.

Are you still in touch with any of your former students? I remember one story you told me (about 9 years ago – in 2006) about a student who contacted you years later and asked you to lunch, to thank you for your tutoring/mentoring support all those years ago, and he was now married with a child. Do you have any other favorite stories about a student you’d like to share?
You are referring to Joe Rea, my first student. Yes he contacted me, we had lunch and he thanked me for the time we shared. Hard to believe he would be in his 40’s now. That was a very special moment in my life. I try to teach my students respect for others and themselves. Stand up and be heard, but do it the right way. I insist on a firm hand shake and eye to eye contact to begin our sessions. I have seen my old students in school years later and they always greet me eye to eye and with a firm handshake – makes me feel great each time and a lesson they will bring with them into adulthood.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I have enjoyed the time IBM, CMS, and CIS have allowed me to spend working with students over the years. Gwen Thompson [CIS Site Coordinator at Nathaniel Alexander] and CIS in general are providing a much needed resource for kids that normally would fall through the cracks. My 25 years with Gwen have been great – her dedication to CIS has been special and she deserves a “thank you” from all of us.

Editor’s Note:  CIS Site Coordinator Gwen Thompson (Nathaniel Alexander Elementary) is celebrating 25 years with CIS-Charlotte this year, and she has had Mike as a volunteer all 25 years. What a great team they make!