Tutors provide role models to kids
By RON SUSTSKO
Each Monday and Wednesday, I journey with eight or 10 other students to the LaSalle Youth Center on South Bend's West Side. We climb into one of the CSC vans and make the 15-minute ride across the river into an area of run-down factories and other dilapidated buildings. Once the center is near, we can sense the activities and noises of any community center: the laughter of games of tag, the zigzag of touch football and the up-and-down rhythm of swings. As our van lumbers into its parking spot, some of the children excitedly shout, "The tutors are here!" while others flock to their favorite person claiming, "You're my tutor! You're gonna work with me!" As little Rayshaun hugs my legs and tries to jump in my arms, I lead the tutors in, herding the children into their respective classrooms. We set to work with our students, reading spelling lists, rounding numbers and struggling through long division. Invariably, the time flies and our session ends with high-fives, hugs and pleads by the children to be taken back to campus. Once we finally depart, we head back to another contented night at Notre Dame.
But if we knew exactly what the children experience and how different their world is from ours, I doubt these nights would be so content. When working with these children, it may seem that many of them face the same problems: lack of concentration and motivation, falling behind or not receiving enough attention. However, when viewed individually, these are not quite the "same" problems. These children are nowhere near the levels they should be. Some fourth-graders still need help with basic addition; others can not comprehend a word they read. One child can not read at all. These are not the normal setbacks of all elementary children.
The setbacks these children face are a tragedy, a problem I believe must be stopped. More importantly, I believe each of us can play a role in the solution. I know we can not transform the entire education system, but we can play an amazing role in the education of these area children. These children have not been given the same gifts that have allowed us to attend this amazing University and gain a top-notch education. It seems we have an obligation to share this with the community that surrounds us. The Center for Social Concerns has made this a great deal easier and more effective with the creation of the Lead Tutors program, a program of which I have been lucky to be a part. The center's program makes the tutoring efforts in which Notre Dame students can participate organized, efficient and convenient. Rather than sending volunteers to many different tutoring programs, the center has focused on 11 South Bend community centers, high schools and elementary schools at which the Lead Tutors are responsible for running the tutoring programs. The result is a focused and well-organized program, as each center gains much attention and a great commitment from its tutors.
Thanks to an increased time commitment and the limited number of sites, these tutoring programs have been rejuvenated into very unique and effective experiences. However, tutoring is only half of the job. What the children need most are mentors. Their academic problems are tough, but not as tough as the restrictions placed on them by their environments. They need a role model, a friend and a big brother/big sister. The CSC's tutoring program makes this possible. Tutors can be paired up with students in a one-to-one ratio and meet with the same student each week. This gives the students a sense of consistency and commitment — something that may be lacking from their lives. Tutors are able to develop friendships with the students and really feel like they are a part of someone's life.
For many young students, Notre Dame tutors can be a hopeful presence in their lives. I can not tell you how many children have told me that they want to go to Notre Dame or have asked if I am a football player. To them, we are larger than life. In many ways, we are their heroes, the people they want to be when they grow up. By taking part in their lives we are fulfilling this role. We truly can be heroes. With our help, they can be too.
Ron Sustsko is a senior English and pre-professional major. He has been a Lead Tutor through the Center for Social Concerns since August. For a More Just and Humane World is a bi-weekly column sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns. Comments and discussions are welcome at ND.email@example.com.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, November 4, 1999