Hope Community in Minneapolis: Two tutors, two stories

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Tyler Engstrom-Socha and Alicia Beattie both volunteer as tutors at Hope Community. They told the stories of their involvement and the rewards of volunteering.

Each of our interns in the last semester (Fall 2012) had volunteered in a tutoring program. As part of their final project, they put together a series of stories — a list of volunteer tutoring opportunities, an evaluation of what makes tutoring effective, and three individual stories, linked here

Tyler Engstrom-Socha, took an English class at University of Minnesota with an option for the service learning program in 2011. After spending 22-25 hours for a semester, he’s still continuing to volunteer as tutor a year and a half later. He talks about his volunteering experience.

Q: What do you think of this tutoring program?

A: Kids see volunteers as friends not teachers, so they are more motivated to learn. And some kids are attached to volunteers by the end of semester. It’s helpful for kids because for most of them, English is not their first language so this program gives them time and space to practice language and reading skills.

Q: Do you work with the same kid or different kids each time?

A: Most volunteers work with the same kid … but the problem is sometimes kids don’t show up, so you have to work with different kids.

Q: What is the difficult part for you doing this?

A: Getting kids to focus on reading. We don’t have control over them and we can’t say, “You have to do this.” We try to encourage them by saying, “Why don’t we try this?” or “Why don’t we read one book first then take a break?” If they don’t want to do this, we are not in a position to force them.

Q: Have you ever talked to parents?

A: They are really friendly and appreciate our work because they know we don’t get paid doing this and we give up sleeping hours on Saturday morning, which is sometimes important for college students. They appreciate that we can take their kids for several hours so they can do their things like going shopping. And they know their kids need to learn English to be successful in Minneapolis. So they are really supportive to us.

Q: Have you noticed any improvements on any kids you worked with?

A: Last year, I worked with a kid who was five. We did letter sounds and some simple words. This fall, after one year, he could read a full book that is about 15-20 pages. Nothing difficult, but he is a first grader and his first language is Spanish. It’s a considerable improvement for his reading skills.

Q: What do you think your biggest outcome for doing this?

A: Coming from a medium size town near Duluth, there is predominantly Caucasian people, Caucasian culture. In Minneapolis, there is a giant mix of different cultures. Doing this program … actually opened my eyes to see that everyone has his own lifestyle and it’s different from where I raised. Now, I know more things in Somali and Spanish culture than before.

Q: What advice you would give for new volunteers or people who want to volunteer?

A: Just go out and volunteer. It doesn’t matter what you. Do something you enjoy. As long as it can make a difference in people’s life, no matter who or how. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. I only spend three hours per week doing this. It’s really a minor commitment. Think about sacrifice three hours of sleep and that can make a difference in a kid’s life.

Another volunteer Alicia Beattle also shares her experiences volunteering this tutoring program. Alicia Beattie is living in the HECUA house at Hope Community as part of the HECUA environmental sustainability program, and volunteers on Saturdays as part of that program.

Do you enjoy tutoring?

I love reading with children. It’s so exciting to see them grasping new information and see the new vocabulary developing and social skills developing and for every page, looking at the pictures and how words connect to the drawing.

Do you work with the same kid every time?

That’s one thing actually I would change about this program. Sometimes, I work with the same child. It depends on what time they come in the morning, I am open and sit there waiting for a child to come to me. If a child already came to me, I won’t be able to work with the same child, I worked last time.

There is not much consistency there, which means you don’t always develop a strong relationship with any one child. Because you are switching around a lot, it’s a lot more difficult to get to know the child as far as what their reading level is, what their strengths are and all that. Plus, they would feel more comfortable practicing reading when they have a strong relationship with you.

So one thing I would recommend is either having a buddy system so pairing people up at the beginning would be helpful. Or a way to avoid any hard feeling if one of them won’t show up would be to have a group. So a group of four people, for example, so that if one person doesn’t show up, the group still holds strong. But that way, people can hold a closer relationship and feel more comfortable to get the process.

What do you think is your biggest outcome from this experience?

I think the biggest outcome for me is how rewarding it is to be a part of community. In our modern age, people hardly know their neighbors, or they don’t really feel connected to their community. In the future, I’d like to continue to work directly to people living in my neighborhood, make sure to know them, because it’s more valuable for your time to feel like you’re connected to everyone else, building a stronger community together. It’s just so exciting to see children actually improved their reading skills, gained the personal confidence. And to be part of that is really rewarding.