Teachers volunteer time to tutor Hispanic students

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Staff members from Knollwood Elementary School aren’t getting paid in dollars to provide tutoring for Hispanic students this summer, but the smiles and hugs they receive are all the compensation they need.
“These kids need more than the traditional school calendar has to offer them,” said Nicole Gardner, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at the school.
Throughout the past four weeks, 20 teachers and assistants from the school have faithfully shown up at Esperanza al Mundo church off Airport Road to provide children with the skills they’ll need to start the school year off strong.
Gardner said the idea to provide summer tutoring came about after looking at end-of-year data.
“You see students growing, growing like they are climbing up a mountain, but then over the summer they fall back down,” she said. “When school starts back they end up relearning what they lost instead of continuing on in their education.”
Katie Ballou, another ESOL teacher, said she was ready to do anything to reach out to the school’s Hispanic children this summer.
“I was willing to go to their homes,” she said. “I just really wanted to help them.”
Gardner said the summer program has allowed students to use their English skills to advance in reading and math rather than spending 78 days completely immersed in the Spanish language.
Thanks to the church, most of the students can merely walk or car pool for the sessions.
“We didn’t want transportation to be a factor and a large percentage of our population lives in this area,” Principal Shonda Hairston said.
Esperanza al Mundo Pastor Pedro Colocho said he was delighted to lend his support and open his facility up for learning.
“I thank God that they can use this building to bless others in the community,” he said. “We always tell our children how important it is for them to study and to go to school so they can be productive within society, and this supports that.”
Gardner said actually going out into the community rather than asking the students to come to the school has been a good way to build relationships.
“We want these kids to know that we as teachers truly care about them, so we’re meeting them where they’re at,” she said.
Closing the gap
Hairston said she’s been impressed with the initiative ESOL teachers have taken this summer to make sure students return to school sharp and ready to learn.
“We have a 48 percent Hispanic population and while it’s a factor, it can’t be an excuse,” she said. “So I said ‘Let’s problem-solve, let’s find a way to close this gap for our students.’ ”
When the teachers came up with the plan for the summer tutoring sessions, Hairston said she didn’t have to lift a finger.
“They truly exceeded my expectations, scheduling the dates and times and letting parents know,” she said. “That’s true teacher leadership at its best — recognizing a need and responding.”
By reaching out to students, Hairston said she’s also hoping parents will see the school’s commitment to making sure their children succeed.
Educate and inform
“We want to educate and inform parents,” she said. “We work hard to involve parents and make sure Knollwood is an inviting place because I think parental support and community involvement have a great improvement on student achievement.
About 85 children have attended the sessions this summer. Although they come to work, Gardner said, there is some fun.
“We don’t want it to be as strict as school; we want them to enjoy it and come back,” she said. “We’re trying to instill in them a love for learning.”
The teachers are hoping to continue their outreach this fall by offering after-school tutoring at the church.
“I am so thankful to the teachers for their unconditional support and the help they have given the Hispanic community,” Colocho said. “I know they are doing it with a lot of love.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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