Program fosters legacy of learning

Tutors: A Baltimore church has offered one-on-one help for nearly 40 years.

November 04, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On the third floor of a church in Bolton Hill, one of Baltimore's longest-running tutoring programs for young readers meets nearly every school day, offering help to struggling pupils and enrichment to those who already love books.

Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, at 1316 Park Ave., has been offering the program for nearly 40 years -- long enough that, volunteers say, some of those who were helped as children come back as adults to share their gratitude.

"I think we're a support for what the schools and teachers are doing," said Sharon Winternitz, director of the Brown Memorial tutoring effort, which brings in children twice a day, Mondays through Thursdays, from nearby Rosemont, Eutaw-Marshburn and Mount Royal elementary schools.

The program was begun in the early 1960s by members of Brown Memorial "who wanted to share their love of reading with kids in the neighborhood," said Gail Parker, who retired this year after 17 years as director. "Over the years, we get better books, better training and more experience."

The program enrolls 73 children from the three schools and focuses on improving their reading scores. It requires an unusual level of commitment from church and school alike because the children miss part of their regular day to participate in the morning and afternoon tutoring sessions. It amounts, said Winternitz, to "a partnership with the schools," under which the children receive one-on-one reading help from about 60 tutors.

These tutors include a mix of veteran volunteers -- some of whom have been working with the program for many years -- and newcomers eager to contribute to the neighborhood.

June Carr, 72, has volunteered at Brown Memorial for 34 years and said she has seen marked growth in the tutoring program over the years. Carr is pleased with the results of the one-on-one tutoring.

"It's easier to teach a child one at a time," she said. "You can really zero in on what their reading needs are."

Arturo Ramirez, 21, is at the other end of the volunteer spectrum. A senior at the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, he wants to be a teacher after graduating from college, and values his experience in the Brown Memorial program, where he has worked for two years. He said he has seen the children he tutors benefit.

"They are a little more open and a little more willing to make mistakes and not feel bad about it," said Ramirez.

The children often are referred by teachers who believe they need concentrated help to improve their reading skills. But some, such as Chardina Scott, a fifth-grader at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, come for enrichment.

Chardina, 9, said that she likes attending the program because she "gets to read really long chapter books." Her tutor, Jean Rubin, 73, brings a variety of books for Chardina to read and discuss, ranging from books about time travel to art books written in French.

Chardina also was interested in the globe that Rubin brings to some of the sessions.

"When we read a story that takes place somewhere else, she tells me where it is," said Chardina.

Rubin, who taught English at the Maryland Institute College of Art for 28 years, said "the main thing is to open their minds as much as possible. ... You try to add a dimension to the ordinary."

Program organizers try various techniques to keep the tutoring sessions from becoming a mundane extension of class work.

Every five to six weeks during the school year, for example, pupils receive books for their personal collections. The program also mails books to children at home during the summer, and the pupils send responses about the books to the tutoring center.

All of this can create meaningful connections between the young participants and the Brown Memorial program.

Antwan Covington, 9, a third-grader at Eutaw-Marshburn, said, "I have a lot of books at home that I got from here last year."

In addition to improving the children's academic skills, Winternitz said, a major goal of the program is to help them discover the joy of reading. "Children who are struggling don't always see the purpose in reading," said Winternitz.

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