Educating Face-to-Face

North Carolina Wesleyan’s After-school Tutoring Initiative is a big win for education majors and for local school children

The idea that service is an integral part of any solid education is at the core of the Sullivan Foundation’s mission. The Education Department at North Carolina Wesleyan shares that idea, looking for ways to put their future teachers into the classroom long before they graduate.

Of course, student teaching and other forms of in-classroom training are standard for any education major. At Wesleyan, however, associate professor Patricia Brewer identified an opportunity for a new kind of on-the-job training that would fortify her students’ educations while having a tremendous impact on an exceptional group of younger students.

These children had been identified by their school teachers as needing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)—an indication that some form of learning deficit was hindering their academic progress. Their problems might range from attention deficit disorder to some degree of autism or a combination of disabilities.

When these students enter the Education Department on Wesleyan’s stately campus, they have something in store for them that they may have never associated with education before—excitement.

The forging of a partnership

For the last two years, children have been coming to Wesleyan to take part in a tutorial program created as a joint effort between the Education Department and a local United Way agency—the Association for the Learning Disabled and Handicapped (ALDH).

Working together, Wesleyan and ALDH created the Afterschool Tutorial Initiative for students in grades K-12. Students and a parent or guardian meet at Wesleyan one night a week from 6:00 to 7:30 for 10 weeks during the college’s fall and spring semesters.

The collaboration came about as the result of ALDH’s outcry for additional and intensive after-school services for children in grades K-12. The need for tutors sparked the imagination of Brewer, who is the department’s coordinator of special education. Brewer and Rosemary Holliday, executive director of ALDH, along with its board members, came up with a plan: Why not let Wesleyan students who are studying to become teachers gain practical experience by working one-on-one with children in the ALDH program?

So as part of a course called “Introduction to Exceptional Children” that Brewer teaches, Wesleyan students began putting their knowledge into practice by working with some of the ALDH students. Some of the Wesleyan students in other education classes also volunteered to help with tutoring in order to gain practical experience for their future careers.

“The teacher education students are finding that the tutoring program is a tremendous asset in extending the classroom experience, because they actually work with a student one-on-one,” Brewer says. “Even though they get an opportunity in their field placement (student teaching), they’re in a classroom with other students. The Afterschool Tutorial Initiative provides an opportunity to work one-on-one to be able to see the needs of the children, read their IEPs, and begin to work on their needs.”

Matthew May, an education major, said his experience with ALDH children has confirmed his decision to become a mathematics teacher.

“At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to be a teacher,” May says. “This program has reassured me that I do enjoy teaching, and it gave me experience, too. I’ve worked with fourth through tenth graders… Sometimes just hearing something in a different way makes a difference in how a student understands.”

A program for parents, too

While children in the program scoot their chairs up to low tables and pull in close to their tutors, Brewer meets downstairs with parents. They sit around a conference table as Brewer leads them in a discussion of strategies for helping their special needs children.

“I love meeting with the parents,” Brewer says, “and they are so happy, they are so receptive. It hasn’t always been like that for them. Then all of a sudden they’re here in an environment where their kids come in and we’re greeting them—‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here!’ That makes you feel special. You like going there.”

Brewer said that the children coming to Wesleyan—coming to “college”—has made a huge difference for them.

“You can imagine what it does for the young students,” Brewer says. “The Wesleyan students are greeting them, telling them ‘Hello, welcome to Wesleyan.’ It’s just amazing, and their parents feel good, because they know that all the students working with these kids are education majors, and a great number are special education majors.”

The attention for their children—hard to come by in school—is a value the parents recognize right away.

“The parents know if they were paying for this they wouldn’t get any more for their money,” Brewer says. “The hour and a half these kids get one-on-one is probably more time than they get in a whole week with their regular teacher, because she has a classroom full of students. Here, the children are captivated by just one person, and the kids thoroughly enjoy it.”

A tutoring triumph

Parents tell success stories of children who were failing their grades or failing certain classes, but who were re-tested and promoted to the next school grade after they took part in the Afterschool Tutorial Initiative.

“It’s hard for people to understand kids with special needs,” says the parent of a young girl with attention deficit disorder. “People don’t have the patience. But since my child has been coming to Wesleyan, her self-esteem has increased, and her teacher can see a difference in class. It also has helped me to understand, and I don’t have to cry so much and wonder why people don’t understand.”

Brewer describes the Afterschool Tutoring Initiative as a win-win situation.

“Wesleyan students are getting so much out of it,” she says. “And the kids are getting so much out of it. We all are benefitting. And the parents. No one goes away not being happy. It’s a well-invested project where everybody is getting dividends.”

This article was adapted from an article that originally appeared in the North Carolina Wesleyan College Magazine.

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