By Casey Hans
Teachers at Eberwhite Elementary are involved with a program this school year that gives students extra help, makes families more comfortable at school and increases the staff’s outreach into the community.
Each teacher tutors at nearby Parkhurst Apartments on Pauline Boulevard which is within the Eberwhite attendance area. Each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon a team of two or three teachers visits the apartment complex’s community center to offer one-on-one homework and school help.
Fifth-grader Kearria was shy about coming to the tutoring sessions at first. “But she came, and hasn’t missed a day since,” said tutor Shelly Brock, a second-grade teacher at Eberwhite, who added that the program is building self-confidence for all of the students.
Kearria was working on reading comprehensions projects, science and doing some homework. “I like it so I don’t have to do it at home,” she added. She also entertained the group before the tutoring began by stepping into the room to play the viola, which she is learning.
Principal Debi Wagner said the tutoring was a logical step to the school’s work at Parkhurst. The school has hosted informational parent meetings and dinners for several years and, last year, sponsored math game nights for the kids. This year, Wagner said, they took it one step further and set up the tutoring schedule.
Teacher volunteers each visit Parkhurst seven times over the school year.
“”We have adopted that complex,” Wagner explained. “They’re all different ages, but they’re all our kids. Even more important than the work is the relationship that’s happening. It’s really helped the relationships with the families. We’re really seeing increased attendance at school events.”
She said as the students become closer to the teachers, the families become more comfortable.
Wagner is working on the project with staff at Avalon Housing, which manages and operates Parkhurst Apartments. Avalon’s Director of Family and Community Services Celeste Hawkins said Avalon was already planning to open a community center space at the complex when she was approached by Wagner and the Eberwhite staff.
“I thought it was absolutely wonderful that they were going to do this,” Hawkins said. “We were in the planning stages of opening a community center space: A safe place for people to gather and share ideas. I was very excited about the opportunity to partner with Debi and make the connection. It has been a success so far.”
Avalon converted a vacant apartment to the community center which is also used for community meetings and other informational sessions. Avalon also offers support in the form of boys and girls clubs, which deal with issues of self-esteem, safety and feelings. They also have guest speakers and, of course, the tutoring.
Parkhurst instituted a four-day after-school program that includes the Eberwhite teachers on Tuesdays and Thursdays and community volunteers and staff the other two days of the week. Avalon provides snacks for the children. “All the feedback we’ve been receiving, the parents really appreciate it,” Hawkins added.
Wagner noted that the tutoring program helps her staff connect with students — some of their own and others who they might not have in class this year. “It gives them an opportunity to get to know the children on a deeper level,” she said. “It helps them to understand their lives.”
On this afternoon, Brock is tutoring with physical education teacher Kristi Van Ryn and art teacher Diane Grady.
“I think it’s great, a wonderful program” said Grady. “They’re (the students) going to come in contact with every, single mentor. It’s going to create a sense of community, a sense of belonging. What makes this work is that we come out into the community. That’s huge.”
Van Ryn said “it’s been a lot of fun. I get to see more of who they (the students) are. I usually only see them in gym.”
In addition to the tutoring, Eberwhite also has a donation bookshelf in the Parkhurst community center. Wagner said the school community hosts an ongoing book drive to restock the shelves so parents can feel free to take the books and continue reading with their children at home.
Wagner said staff will evaluate the tutoring program at the end of the school year. “This is certainly the most ambitious project we’ve done,” she said.
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 Ext. 51228.