Making a difference, one child at a time Tutors from a local church work with CMS students.

Photo by Jennifer Poff Cooper
A tutor and her assigned student work together in the library at Christiansburg Middle School.

In the decade since St. Paul United Methodist Church and Christiansburg Middle School have partnered in a tutoring program, many things in education have changed.

Two things that haven’t are that, with both entities, all children are valued, and the caring personnel—both faculty and volunteers—want the best for the children.

The goal of St. Paul’s tutoring ministry is to send to the school volunteers who will give of their time in helping students improve their academic skills.

On a deeper level, though, the ministry exists to enrich the lives of children at that school through interaction with loving, supportive adults.

The way that the partnership affects students is by volunteers giving one hour each week to help sixth-grade students with their work.

It may be reviewing for a spelling test. It may be going over math facts or helping children to correct their test papers. It could be just listening to a child read.

“There is no better way to teach a child than to have one to one assistance. Every class has a few children who would benefit from this extra help,” said Karen Poff, the liaison coordinator from St. Paul.

Poff, a retired guidance counselor at CMS, saw a need years ago and enlisted members of her church to help.

Each tutor is assigned to a specific student and teachers prepare the work, so tutors only have to come with a love for children to find a rewarding experience each week.

Some volunteers have past teaching experience, but not all tutors do. Volunteers can tutor in whatever subject they feel most comfortable. Typically that is reading, as much of what tutors do is similar to how they read with their own children or grandchildren—reading to the child, listening to the child read, asking questions about content, and so on.

Some tutors have been involved with the program from its inception. One of those, who declined to be named because she tries to keep the focus off of herself and on the children, said: “[I’ve been tutoring] so long that it seems like it is just part of my weekly schedule.” She loves that she begins her week tutoring first thing on Monday mornings. “I really enjoy this age group of kids, they energize me each week.”

This volunteer’s joy comes from the connections: “Year after year, the meaning of this work comes from the relationships that I form with the teacher and the students, being just a small part of their community.”

While tutors are not privy to students’ test scores, they can see anecdotal progress week to week – whether it is academic or social.

“I love getting to know the students and supporting their learning. I always feel great success when I can get through to a student who is reluctant to talk or interact with me,” said the volunteer.

Stephanie Blevins, a sixth-grade language arts teachers, has had at least one tutor support her classroom for a number of years.

“This program is beneficial for me as a teacher because it gives the students one on one attention that I cannot give them,” she said.

Blevins said of the time she takes to prepare for the tutors, “I do not see it as extra time, but an extra opportunity for my students.”

From her standpoint, the program enriches the students in myriad ways.

“Over the years, I have seen students not only grow academically but also their confidence in themselves. Once they realize that they can do it, and see the grades going up, they often have the drive to want to do better. Often I chose a student that I know will work but just needs that little extra push. Once the student has built his or her confidence, they tend to work better in class,” Blevins said.

“All the tutors that I have worked with have gone the extra mile to make the child feel special. It has been amazing to see the relationships that the students and the tutors develop throughout the year. I have watched the tutors take a real interest in the students’ well being. Students look forward to seeing their tutors and will ask during the week if and when they will be there,” Blevins continued. “I have seen this program turn students’ grades and attitudes around.”

“It’s always great to see the community partner with our schools,” said Jason Garretson, principal at CMS. “Many of our students enjoy the individualized attention they receive from their tutors. Our students are all old enough to understand that this adult is giving up their own time to come here and help them, not because they have to, but because they want to.”

Said the anonymous volunteer, “I am reminded each week how important positive relationships are for kids, just being there to listen and support their learning.”