LITERACY CORPS TUTORS OFFER A JUMP-START ON READING AND WRITING
Last summer, a smiling little girl greeted Jessica White '00 at the door each day as White arrived at the Dr. Weeks School in Syracuse. In the girl's hands was a book she wanted to practice reading. "Even if we had read a different book the day before and only got through one page or sentence, she would have a new book the next time," White says. "It was so rewarding, knowing that this little girl was so eager to read."
White, a policy studies and public relations major in the College of Arts and Sciences and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, was one of nearly two dozen Literacy Corps tutors hired during each of the past two summers. The program, launched on campus in 1997 as part of President Bill Clinton's America Reads Challenge, provides tutoring for elementary schoolchildren in the Syracuse City School District. "Our tutors go where the needs are greatest," says Pam Heintz, director of Syracuse University's Center for Public and Community Service, which oversees the program. "The goal is to give these children opportunities to practice reading and writing. Tutors learn what is happening in class and reinforce the lessons."
For the tutors, working one on one with young children is an eye-opening experience. "I originally got involved with Literacy Corps as another summer job," says Tim Conroy '00, a Newhouse broadcast journalism major who tutored at the Dr. Weeks School last summer and returned this academic year. "It ended up being the best job I ever had. I just felt so good after work every day. The kids were always appreciative of the help."
Literacy Corps, open to students of all academic disciplines, hires about 30 tutors during the academic year. "One strength of the SU corps is that it is not just an education students' corps," Heintz says. "Students from all across campus bring their unique skills and talents to the program."
Students are selected for their expressed willingness to contribute to a child's educational experience. They complete an initial six-hour training program and receive additional instruction throughout the year. During the summer session, students participate in two days of training and get weekly guidance. The SU corps uses a tutoring framework that was developed by Professor Kathleen Hinchman '76, G'80, G'85 of the School of Education's reading and language arts department, and representatives from the city school district's Office of Elementary Education. The training is updated and improved annually, and tutors are required to work at least 10 hours a week in the classroom. "It is definitely a commitment," Heintz says.
courtesy of tim conroy|
Tim Conroy '00, right, and Najece Rufus share a laugh during a Literacy Corps tutoring session at the Dr. Weeks School in Syracuse.
Once tutors are assigned to classrooms, they work closely with teachers, aides, and parents. White says she flourished in the collaborative setting. "No one thought I was there to change what was already being done," she says. "They saw me as being there to help. And they loved having someone who could give the students more attention."White says the preparation is thorough, but nothing can quite prepare a person for a classroom experience that may include working for the first time with students with special needs. "I was very nervous at first," she admits. "I felt ready, but wasn't sure that I was equipped to work with students with physical or developmental disabilities."
As White began interacting with children in the class, she took her cues from them. "I was amazed by how accepting they were," she says. "These children saw no differences among themselves. That influenced me a lot. I'm now more accepting of people with differences than I used to be."
Heintz says the program's objective is not to turn every participant into an educator or lifelong volunteer, but to shape each one into a lifelong literacy advocate. "Literacy Corps gives the tutors a different perspective," she says. "They begin to appreciate how difficult education is."
Conroy was so inspired by his experience that he is determined to incorporate what he learned into his future career. "As a journalist, I would like to focus on education," he says. "It's important to let people know what's really going on in that school building they pass every day."