In Chicago, unusual tutoring program lures 'at-risk' children to school early

January 01, 1992|By James Hill | James Hill,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- They do more by 8:30 in the morning than many elementary-school children do all day.

They are several dozen pupils who get help in a unique before-school tutoring program at Hart Elementary School in North Chicago -- code named HART, for Helping At Risks To Succeed.

The formula is simple: Hart provides the youngsters; the nearby Great Lakes Naval Training Center provides the tutors; and Walgreens, the drugstore chain, provides the money for supplies and a breakfast for pupils and tutors after each session.

The program began last February with a 10-week term. Another 10-week term began in early October.

"Even if the students don't make great education leaps, which most do, being around the naval personnel provides great role models," said Kathy Wohlfeil, a first-grade teacher who helps administer the program.

The 50 to 60 "at-risk" children in the program have repeated a grade or are being held back.

The Navy tries to provide as many male tutors as possible because so few men, and even fewer black men, teach elementary students.

"We approached the school and said, 'We know you have a problem, and we can provide the needed assistance,' " said Ensign Hope Dolan, who organizes the program for the Navy. "This is strictly a volunteer program."

Every child's parent or guardian must consent and promise to bring the child to school on time.

"It's as much a parent's responsibility to have their kid here as anything else," Ms. Wohlfeil said.

And what about the children? "The kids think it's a privilege to be in this program," Ms. Wohlfeil said.

Take Christina Brown. The 8-year-old looks forward to seeing her reading tutor.

"Some people don't care, but our tutors do," she said.

"My mom tries to tell me the more work I do, the more help the[tutors] will give me, and the more work I do, the more brains I got. They've got the tutors here for kids like me who are having some troubles. I have the basic skills for reading, but it's just the big words I have trouble with."

The hourlong tutoring sessions begin at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Ms. Wohlfeil noted that youngsters often show up as early as 7 a.m.

xTC The program has a strict attendance policy: three unexcused absences and a child is dropped.

"We had several dropouts the first few weeks," Ms. Wohlfeil said. "But since we have gotten rolling, attendance has been almost 100 percent. I have students begging to get into the program.

"Most of the teachers have seen academic gains," she said, "especially in math and reading."

"It's fun," said Chief Petty Officer Bob Money, who tutors first-graders.

"At the beginning of the year, we couldn't even get some of them to perform the basics. Now they're telling time, spelling and everything," Chief Money said.

Chief Petty Officer William Haywood, who has been tutoring youngsters in math and English for a year, said that helping children strive to do their best is a responsibility.

"I know the importance of an education," said Chief Haywood, who has been in the military for nine years. "I messed up my 10th-grade year and spent two years making up for it. I wish I could have done things different back then."

He said that having uniformed naval personnel in the school teaches the youngsters discipline and respect.

"Some of the kids today don't have respect for adults," he said. "Some of them come from broken homes or single-parent homes. The uniform gives them a sense of respect, and I hope that it would show them that even though we are a large organization, we care."

One of his pupils, Monique Pitts, a sixth-grader who plans on being a rich and famous model, said Chief Haywood has taught her that she must study hard before her dream can come true.

"We get motivation, encouragement and discipline from oututors," she said.

"Since I plan to be rich, I especially need the help in math, so I can count all of my money."

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