From India to Macalester to Minneapolis: One tutor’s journey


Akanksha Dua, an international student studying Genetics and Creative Writing at Macalester College leads an ordinary college life. Her time is usually cluttered with class assignments and weekly tests. Her days are a frenzy between hourly classes, group study projects, meals and inadequate sleep. When she left India to pursue her undergraduate studies in Macalester College, she was determined to receive a well-rounded education in the United States.

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

“I had always wanted to be able to combine my education with other issues I was passionate about,” she said. “This is what an all-round education means to me — the ability to combine theoretical knowledge with real life issues. At Macalester I got the opportunity to do exactly that.”

When Akanksha was a senior in India, she was a member of the Interact Club, a youth-run social service organization under Rotary International. As part of the club’s activities, members organized various projects for the welfare of the society. The club also runs a school for under-privileged kids in the garage of an apartment building. “I frequently visited the kids and taught them some dance and math,” Akanksha said. “The time I spent with them taught me to be always humble and happy even during times of adversity. These lessons were an essential part of my high school education.“

Grace-Trinity Community Church
1430 West 28th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Akanksha has continued her passion for teaching children at Macalester. She is a member of “Lives of Commitment,” a leadership program in Macalester’s Civic Engagement Centre. Participants in the program volunteer weekly at different sites in the Twin Cities. Every Tuesday from 3-6 p.m., Akanksha volunteers at Grace Trinity, an after-school program drawing mainly Spanish-speaking and bilingual youth from Jefferson Elementary School near the Uptown area of Minneapolis. The Grace Trinity tutoring site is run by the Grace Trinity Community Church, which is a welcoming and affirming Christian congregation in Uptown.

Since the fall of 2002, Grace Trinity Community Church has nurtured a unique partnership with Jefferson Community School in Uptown. Students come to the church to receive help with their homework, eat a nourishing dinner with their tutor, and spend time with caring adults in a safe and positive environment. Deborah Clark, the tutoring program coordinator, spearheads the program and organizes activities for the kids with the help of tutors. “Deb is really organized and cooperative,” Akanksha said. “The time and hard work she puts into her job reveals how much she really cares for the kids. She makes sure that the tutees share a strong bond with their tutors and everyone has an overall great time when here.”

A typical tutoring day at Grace Trinity starts when participating kids of grades 3 and 4 from Jefferson Elementary School get dropped off at around 4 p.m. in the basement of the Grace Trinity Community. This is followed by snack time and then a group game, which serves as a bonding session for everyone. Tutees spend the rest of the session with their assigned tutors doing some reading, homework and word memorization by using flash cards and word games. Every student is given a ‘homework bag’ with assigned work for the day. The tutors are trained to use an interactive reading method where they use different techniques to involve their tutee in the reading material either by questioning them on the material or by encouraging the kids to read after them. Tutors help students with reading, math, and homework, and also help lead arts, crafts, and other fun projects. The day ends with dinner and the students are driven back to their homes.

At Grace Trinity, Akanksha tutors a 3rd grader named Katrina, a cute little girl who loves cats and science. Katrina already harbors an interest in science and has amazing comprehension skills.

“Katrina loves Grace Trinity so much, she hardly ever wants to leave!” says Akanksha. The educational program focuses on building friendly relationships between tutors and their mentees. The kids at Grace Trinity are shy initially, but over time they open up to their tutors and also show considerable improvement in their reading and comprehension ability.

“Reading scores go up and, more importantly, the program brings to light the very real benefits of uniting people of different backgrounds to learn from each other and share common ground,” says Deborah Clark in the Grace Trinity Church website.

Akanksha has already noticed an appreciable improvement in Katrina’s reading since her first day four months ago. Katrina makes an effort to concentrate better, memorize the words assigned to her and even initiates conversation about her family, friends and other weekly activities now. Akanksha believes that their relationship is both friendly and official. “Although we talk like friends and share our stories with each other, Katrina knows that at some point I am after all her tutor and she has to complete the assignments and readings I set for her.”