Back to school — you can help

Used with permission, Creative Commons 2.0

Used with permission, Creative Commons 2.0

St. Paul kids need you. With 38,000 students heading back to school, the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation is partnering with more than 20 community locations and all of the city’s libraries to offer everything from homework help to targeted math tutoring. Last year, they fielded 1600 tutors working with more than 6,500 kids. This year’s big plans include a medley of training sessions for tutors in September and October, as well as welcoming back hundreds of experienced and enthusiastic volunteers.

I met some of these volunteers at the Tangletown Tutors gathering hosted each year since 2009 by Rosa Maria and Chip Peterson. Mike Anderson, the executive director of the foundation, and VISTA volunteer Taylor Clements welcomed about a dozen new and returning volunteer tutors. 

According to the Foundation website, “Students in grades K-5 receiving literacy tutoring made 10-30 percent greater growth in reading compared to similar students not tutored.” Anderson explained that that the most successful tutoring, in terms of raising student achievement scores, comes from a tutoring relationship between one tutor and one student that continues throughout the school year, with 20-30 meetings.

Not every student will sign on for the full-year, every-week tutoring experience, but other kinds of tutoring makes a difference, too. I remember my first tutoring experience, back in Chicago many years ago. The friendly six-year-old was judged by his school to be “slow.” He most definitely was not, and his mother knew it. Since the school didn’t believe in him, she looked for help at the church, and I got the tutoring assignment.

I received much more — in friendship and support and learning — than I gave in my first teenage tutoring try. With a little encouragement, our first-grader quickly convinced his teachers that he was anything but slow. When Chicago created its first gifted and talented magnet school, he was among its first students, thanks to his mother’s wisdom and persistence.

We didn’t have 20 one-on-one sessions, but something much closer to the “Read With Me” program that all St. Paul libraries are offering. Reading with a young student offers an opportunity to share your own joy in books and maybe help inspire a lifelong reader. Homework Help sessions can get someone over the rough spots in a new math topic or in constructing a better essay.

Can you spare an hour once a week to help a St. Paul student? Think about it. You will get a minimum of two sessions of tutor training and a match with a tutoring program that fits your schedule and preferences.

We need major policy and education changes to address the opportunity/achievement gap. But we also need personal relationships to bridge the gaps between kids and adults, between being lost in school and confidently finding your way, between falling behind and keeping up.

One hour a week — unless you try it, you’ll never know what a difference tutoring can make in a student’s life, and in your own.

In St. Paul, call or email Taylor Clements <> or 651-325-4205.

In Minneapolis or whatever other city you are in, contact your district’s volunteer office.

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