Jumping from 18 to 80 volunteers since last fall, Gier Reading and Journal Buddies is one of two GOAL programs that has seen recent growth. The other is the Public School Tutoring system, which has added a new program in order to better reach students in the community.
Gier Reading and Journal Buddies has two parts, each supported by a different group of volunteers: reading volunteers who assist teachers in the classroom, and journal buddies, college students who become pen pals with fourth-graders at Gier Elementary School. In the Journal Buddies program, volunteers share a journal with a middle school student, writing letters back and forth as they trade the journal. The program’s tremendous growth has occurred since junior Frances Wiese took over last fall. Wiese attributes the growth to the inherent nature of the program.
“I sort of always knew Journal Buddies was a good program for college students, because they don’t have to leave campus and it’s a really small time commitment,” Wiese said.
Besides, the program is a lot of fun, she said.
“I think we forget sometimes how fun it is to talk to kids, if that’s not something you’re doing on a regular basis,” she said. “It’s a nice break to get to chat with a fourth grader about what’s going on in their life, which is so different in a lot of ways, but also similar.”
The kids are excited about it as well, she said.
“Every time I bring in the journals after Christmas break, the kids scream,” she recalled. “They get very excited about it, and very attached and happy to have someone to talk to.”
Despite the growth in volunteers, Weise said that the program could use even more. There is still one more fourth grade classroom which doesn’t have journal buddies, and some third grade teachers have shown interest in the program.
The public school tutoring program works with Jonesville Middle School, Davis Middle School, and Hillsdale High School, and is run by sophomore Ellie Everts. As she transitioned into leadership this semester, the program made some changes in order to better accommodate students’ needs. Previously, the program included a group tutoring setting at the school, accompanied by drop-in tutoring on the college campus.
Now, the program has cut the drop-in tutoring program, and switched to a system of one-on-one tutoring. This new program matches a volunteer with a student, and can take place at whatever time and place the student needs, offering more flexibility to students’ needs. The group tutoring at the school still takes place.
They call the traditional tutoring shifts at the school Traditional PST, or Public School Tutoring, while the new one-on-one system is termed PST Network.
School administrators are excited about the new program.
“We started advertising the PST Network at Jonesville Middle School, because that’s where I started volunteering. The school administration has always been very eager to work with us,” Everts said. “We got so much interest from parents and teachers that I had to stop accepting applications because we don’t have enough volunteers.”
Everts said she wants to see the program grow.
“I think we need to expand,” she said. “The more kids that we can match one-on-one with tutors, the better. The need is always there, and it’s always growing.”
Sophomore Jenny Buccola is one of the new tutors who are helping with the one-on-one tutoring program. She remembers working with a student:
“There was this little boy that needed help with spelling, and he had a sentence that he was supposed to find mistakes in about P. T. Barnum, the showman. He didn’t know what that was, so he was reading and reading over and over again, and he says, ‘I think that’s s’posed to say snowman.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m pretty sure it’s showman.’ He thought about it for a minute and goes, ‘Nope. That’s supposed to be snowman.’”
While academics is a main focus of the program, Everts explained that the more fundamental goal is to connect with the kids.
“The bigger part of what we do, I think, is we serve as role models for these kids,” she said. “These kids don’t have a ton of positive influences in their life, and a good tutor in our program that I look for is a good person. Yeah, you’re going to be tutoring, but what you’re going to be doing even more than that is showing them that you care. Whether or not they pick up the math problem and understand what they’re doing, whether or not they understand this scientific principle, that’s kind of secondary. It’s very important, but it’s secondary to them knowing that somebody cares about them.
Buccola agreed, noting that many of the children come from broken homes.
“I think it’s really important for us to go in there and give them a view of the outside world: there are things bigger than you, there are things bigger than your school, and there are people that care about you that are older and can be a good stable influence on you,” she said.
Everts encourages anyone who is interested in the program to contact her for more information.
“For these kids, this is not just a tutoring opportunity,” she said. “The kindness and patience that you show them, even for just one semester of their lives, they’re going to remember that. That does not just sit stagnant in them, that has to change someone, that kind of kindness, that kind of care.”