Junior Frances Wiese, the Gier reading and journal buddies program leader, reads to a student at a Christmas party. Lucile Townley | Courtesy

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.”