This is the third in a series of ten posts on reaching city kids.
Once a week I coordinate a tutoring program at the grade school closest to our church. The first year I did it was the hardest – adjusting to the noise, the rowdiness, the need. When I pulled my van up to the school, bracing myself to haul tutoring supplies into a cafeteria full of clamoring kids, Andre would always be running towards me, beaming. He would give me a hug and help me carry the stuff in, then ply me with questions, “What game are we gonna play today? What did you bring for the snack? Do we still get candy if we remember the verse?”
As the weeks of patient tutoring went by, I saw changes in him. His reading was more fluent. His failure to memorize gave way to an ability to study and proudly recite two or three sentences. He began to disclose his fears and anxieties when his tutor prayed with him. We got him enrolled in our church’s summer camp. “That was probably the most fun I will ever have in my whole life,” he announced on the ride home.
Then he was gone. Medical bills competed with rent, his family was evicted and they moved to some other neighborhood. When I pull my van into the school parking lot, I can still see his eager, beautiful face, and I remember what he said when I asked him why he liked Treehouse Tutoring so much. He said, “Because we get to have fun and everyone be nice to us and we learn about God.”
The magic of this program is in the one to one ratio; in a caring adult listening, reading, helping, praying. Many of these children have no one else with time or energy or know-how to help them read and do their work, so even an hour a week of focused attention is precious to them.
Treehouse Tutoring, much like the city-wide program, Whiz Kids, aims to improve literacy. In Treehouse we want kids to understand the love of God, so we use the Bible as our text. But even more important than the content is the relationship.
The after-school coordinator once said to me, “As soon as I get one of our at-risk kids into a program where they are getting some attention, their attitudes change. I can just see it.”
“Even just once a week?” I asked.
To pull off a weekly tutoring experience, you need:
- A school willing to welcome volunteers. Our faith-based program can only operate after school hours, of course, but the school is the host and you need to work with administrators to get space, referrals of children and parent contact information.
- Tutors who can love and discipline kids, and model fluent, thoughtful reading. They also need to be willing to get a background check, which all schools will require.
- One or more coordinators with around ten hours per week to prepare or find curriculum, plan activities and gather material and snacks (Don’t skip the snacks; kids are hungry after school, especially if they’re living in poverty.) Coordinators also keep records and stay in communication with administrators, parents and tutors.
It’s a lot of work, just for an hour a week with a dozen kids. But I always remember Andre, telling me that Treehouse was his favorite thing all week.
If you have questions about Treehouse, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about City Gospel Mission’s Whiz Kids, go to https://www.citygospelmission.org/tutoring/.