The past two semesters I have been lucky enough to serve as Tutoring Chair for USC Helenes. As such, I am in charge of organizing the tutoring events we do at 32nd Street School, an LAUSD/USC magnet school right next to campus. For years now, on Wednesday mornings we have worked with a 3rd grade class of students, in small groups or individually, helping them with various Math or Reading Comprehension worksheets. After the student(s) finish, we play educational board games with them in what remains of the hour.
Last semester when I became Tutoring Chair, I wanted to improve Helenes’ role as “tutors.” Working with Ms. Berger’s 3rd grade class is a lot of fun, but I also wanted Helenes to spend time focusing on students who need more help in school. I coordinated with the 32nd Street School’s counselor in establishing an after school tutoring session every Monday that is geared towards middle school students who are failing or at risk of failing one or more of their classes.
Now, twice a week Helenes work with two sets of kids. Each group is different. The 3rd graders are spunky, adorable, and say the darndest things. The middle schoolers are a mix of personalities – some incredibly shy while others are rowdy and sarcastic. Regardless of who we are working with though, the experience is incredibly rewarding.
There are two types of moments that stand out to me most as a tutor. The first is when I feel a real connection with a student. There is a 3rd grader named Jose who I have worked with for multiple weeks. While teaching him the concepts seen on his worksheets, he has returned the favor and taught me things such as how to properly flip my hair. We debate who is better - Steph Curry or LeBron James? And every week before he heads back into the classroom, we race each other…he always wins ;) (see picture below of us stretching pre-race). In those moments, we aren’t just a tutor and a student. We’re friends.
The other standout moment is when I see a student succeed and improve. On Mondays I have been working with an 8th grader named Steven. He is incredibly quiet, and it’s a challenge to get him to speak up and break out of his shell. But last week, the latest report card came out. He raised his English grade from a D to a B. To watch as I showed him his new grade, and to see his face light up into a huge smile knowing his hard work paid off…that was an amazing thing to witness. As a tutor, knowing you helped a student achieve something like that is incredibly rewarding.
In holding a chair position, I have learned from both successes and challenges about what it means to be a leader. Last semester, when I expanded Helenes’ tutoring program, I felt I had helped Helenes’ influence in the community grow. Through my efforts towards that success, I learned about the perseverance and persistence required to accomplish a goal. (There were a lot of unreturned phone calls and emails, and continuously being referred to someone else throughout the process). On the other hand, this semester I have struggled to find Helenes who are available 2:50-4:00pm on Mondays for the middle school tutoring. Thus, I have also learned that there are limitations and obstacles faced, not just externally but also internally, when trying to grow part of an organization.
Despite all that I’ve learned though, what I love most about tutoring and being Tutoring Chair, is how it helps Helenes, and by extension USC, establish a stronger connection with the surrounding community. The USC bubble is very real, and it bothers me. But when we are going to a local school twice a week, that dividing wall seems to decrease in size. We’re able to establish relationships with these kids and become a significant part of their lives. When a boy (now in 4th grade, but who was in Ms. Berger’s 3rd grade class during the previous school year), comes running up to you to give you a hug every time he sees you walking through the school, and then asks you why Helenes can’t tutor 4th grade…that’s powerful. And that to me, that’s a sign that what we’re doing is not only important, but is really making an impact.