Tutors learn with students
June 25, 2008 · Updated 11:41 AM
"Photo:Eighth grader Amy Kelso, left, gets help from college age volunteer tutor Cailyn McManus. It's part of South Whidbey's successful tutor-mentor program.Cameron Ackley photoYou don't have to be a fan of Hillary Clinton to agree, It takes a village to raise a child. And if the struggle against the forces that can limit the scholastic growth of young people in our village turns into a battle, as it can, then South Whidbey's tutor-mentor program is on the front lines of that war.Part of a three-pronged civic effort, the program also includes peer mediation and in-school suspension phases. It is sponsored jointly by Langley Middle School, the South Whidbey Youth Center and Langley's police department.The idea grew out of a need in the community and had been previously attempted, with limited success. The current incarnation was initiated last spring as a bare bones project, trying just to get off the ground.Enter Kathy Hein, who began as a volunteer and now holds the 18-hour-a-week coordinator position with the youth center. Hein connects one-on-one volunteer tutors with LMS students who require extra help. I try to figure how a volunteer will fit with a student's particular needs, she said. Sometimes, getting them together for only 45 minutes a week will make a difference.Tutors can help mitigate some of the many unseen factors which could have a bearing on a child's need for support. They may include peer pressure, dyslexia, types of attention deficit disorder, family issues, as well as the emotional stress of pre-adolescence.In addition, an always hectic school schedule can make it difficult for some kids to get help in areas they most need it. All too often, Hein said, she sees the supply and demand equation take on human qualities, as youngsters with needs generally outnumber volunteers to assist them.The Skagit Valley ConnectionConstantly on the lookout for potential tutors, Hein has tapped a source close to her own environment. Currently enrolled at Skagit Valley College, she convinced a couple of fellow students there to jump into the mentor programs at LMS. As a result, 19-year-old Paul Hagen and 20-year-old Cailyn McManus have found a rewarding niche as volunteers.A long-time Southend resident, McManus enjoys giving something back to her community by helping out in the after- school study program, which meets at the middle school. She has been a volunteer since december, and her future plans include a career in the teaching/mentoring field.Sixth-grader Robbie Burns, recopying a paper for English class, said he likes the idea of an after-school study session. It gives you extra time to do things, Burns said, adding that he thinks it's better than regular class because you can get more attention if you need it.Hagen said he had problems of his own at age 12-13, but thinks everyone has the potential to overcome obstacles if they work at it, and believe in themselves. Learning is a big part of life, he said, and it doesn't stop with school. Sometimes, the hardest things to do, such as communicating intelligently with others, are the things we need to work on the most.Another benefit for kids, besides help with schoolwork, is making new friends. Paul helps me know what I might need in life, said eighth-grader Tavier Wasser, whom Hagen tutors twice weekly during school hours. Odds and ends that you may not get from your parents.The project Wasser enjoyed was concocting a mock history test. On the other hand, the common subject middle schoolers most often need a little help with seems to be mathematics.So it is with 13-year-old Kyle Hubbard, who gets help in that area twice a week from Sean Morrow.I like it better than class, Kyle said. I get better grades because of this. Morrow, retiring from Seattle City Light after 35 years and moving to Whidbey, discovered he had some free time and decided to get involved last November. He is now the program's longest-tenured tutor. I got lucky with Kyle, Morrow said, describing his first and only pupil. He's a great kid; very receptive to this. The other two wings of the program, conflict resolution and in-school suspension, are overseen by Victoria Santos, youth development coordinator for the SWYC, whose office is located in the historic old bus barn building. Santos confers with kids in trouble and attempts to view the big picture, she says, preferring to get to the root cause behind a suspension, instead of merely reacting to the behavior that brought it about.The in-school portion of the title refers to a change of format. In the past, suspended students would be sent home. That practice has been altered, since many times, a parent's schedule might have been disrupted. Now, students spend their detention time meeting with Santos.We've seen the number of suspensions come down (from previous years), Santos said, since taking this positive step.The Langley police lend a hand by occasionally stopping by the middle school during lunchtime for beyond the badge officer-friendly visits, which are largely preventive in nature. Depending on the gravity of a suspension, however, the department may have a role in the outcome.The well-received peer-mediation part of the program came into being after Santos taught a conflict resolution class. When students showed an interest, she helped to design a model program, then let them run with it. If a rhubarb occurs, the vice-principal is notified, a meeting time is set up, and two volunteer student mediators from the pool of eight are called in to act as arbiters in the dispute.Funding questionsBecause private donations fuel the suspension-mediation and mentoring operations, funding is a constant concern, according to Mindy Magnusson, executive director of the SWYC, which administers the program. An initial federal startup grant was exhausted, then subsequently discontinued, due to budget cuts. We've had to rely on 'angels in the community,''' to keep the effort afloat, she said. Asked if mentoring projects at other levels were on the horizon, Magnusson replied that it was hard enough maintaining the programs that are already in place. Before we add anything more to the plate, monetary stability has to be addressed, she said.While Kathy Hein seems to be perpetually pressed for time recruiting volunteers, she always has a few moments for students in need.Herself a mother of two boys (and, incidentally, married to near-legendary South Whidbey youth basketball coach Greg Hein) Hein said she is very passionate about her work. When seventh-grader Jon Zeine recently showed up at her office, requesting a math tutor, Hein had to tell him that, unfortunately, none were presently available. What about you? a persistent Zeine asked a visitor. Hein ended up filling the bill herself, after the non-math-proficient visitor was deter-mined to be lacking the requisite new math skills.To volunteer your tutoring expertise, or to find out more about these programs, contact Kathy Hein, 221-5100, ext. 3108; Victoria Santos, 221-5100, ext. 3175; or Mindy Magnusson at the South Whidbey Youth Center, 221-3230."