Last month the After Zone (after school) programs at Roger Williams started up again. Equipped with one new volunteer and a couple of returners, along with a list of about 10 students signed up to attend, we started off the winter session on a strong note!
My volunteers are true superstars: they are some of the most understanding and flexible volunteers at the school. They are also an excellent example of the diverse kinds of volunteers we have at Roger Williams: Ben is a new volunteer and a high school senior who was just looking for ways to get involved; Tim joined us last November, and is a current high school teacher in the suburbs who used to work in Providence, and cherished his time working in the city, so he was excited to return to working with what he calls more exciting students; and finally, Charlene is a 65+ volunteer, in her second year of SRI’s school volunteer program. On the other side of things, many of the students have been coming consistently, which has helped us build better relationships with them, while also being able to understand their learning styles better. All of this has led to a more productive and fun session for all!
There is one student in particular though whom I feel has benefitted from the after school tutoring more than others. John is a 7th grader whose family recently moved to Providence. Gleaning from his accent, I believe his family is from a Sub-Saharan African country, and from what I’ve heard from some of the teachers (and from past experiences working with families at the Dorcas International Institute), I also think he might be a refugee. Keeping all these things in mind, it’s easy to see how John might fall through the cracks at Roger Williams: his English isn’t great, he can be shy about his struggling academics, and he is also unfamiliar with many of the academic norms at the school. Prior to his joining the homework club, I had seen him around the program, always gravitating towards basketball and other sports programs. However, he is signed up for homework club for the winter session, and, after he avoided it for a couple of weeks, the After Zone directly finally tracked him down and dragged him to homework club after his basketball program. The first day he joined us he was stubborn and uninterested in doing any work—he just wanted to play basketball! The next time he came, it was just the two of us in the second session of the afternoon, and he actually had some math homework to do. I sat with him and we started working through the problems, one by one, explicitly going through all the steps to complete his handout. It turns out that he really just needs individualized attention, someone who will read the problem to him and explain step by step what needs to be done (without doing the math for him). We had a great session together, and by the end of the hour, he had even taken to make fun of my sign of approval (“YUP!”), whenever he got a problem right.
I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up the next day for tutoring again. I was even more thrilled when he showed up the following week for the first session (instead of the second one), saying “I have 4 homeworks and want to do 2 first, then play basketball, then come back at finish my homework. Is that okay?” Yes! Of Course! And this time, both Ben and Tim worked with him, instead of just me. John has continued to come back for tutoring with Tim and myself, and while he still would rather be playing basketball, it’s so clear that all he needed was a little bit of individual attention and patience to help him work through his assignments.
John’s story alone makes all the planning, time, and effort to organize the homework club completely worth it.