College students serve community with tutoring


November 12, 2001|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MANY PEOPLE are feeling compelled to civic duty these days. For students at St. John's College in Annapolis, the call to serve has led them to Project Politae.

As the college's student-run community service organization, Project Politae organizes small groups of dedicated "Johnnies," as the students refer to themselves, to reach out beyond campus and into the community.

The project's focus is a volunteer tutoring program for disadvantaged children. According to Andrew Ranson, director of student services, about 54 children were tutored by St. John's students last year.

For parents such as Ben Torreon of Annapolis, the project offers assistance to them and their children. Torreon, 37, is a single father of three. His oldest daughter is getting straight A's in high school this year, but used the service last year. This year, his 11-year-old daughter, Rachel, is being tutored in math, and his 12-year-old son, Cameron has a tutor for language arts.

Torreon said his son is understanding language usage better, and his daughter "feels a lot more confident and comfortable in school because of the extra help."

"I think it's a great thing for [my children]," he said. "Because they get more objective, better-communicated instruction than they do from a parent - because the parent has unfair expectations and emotions in there. And the kids pay attention and connect more eagerly with college kids than parents."

He also said it's great for him because when he gets home in the evenings from work, he can focus on other aspects of his children's lives beyond schoolwork.

For those who qualify to receive tutoring, the free service obviates the $60-an-hour price tag for a county tutor, or makes tutoring possible for those who would otherwise go without.

And like most volunteer activities, the volunteers agree they get as much out of it as the people they serve. Matt Gates, 19, tutors a third-grader in reading and spelling.

"In college, you can sort of think that you exist in a vacuum," he said. "You're in a generational bubble, and it's good to remind yourself that the entire world isn't composed of people between the age of 17 and 25 from upper middle-class backgrounds."

Of course, it's also nice, he added, to take time off from thick, complicated, college books and read Curious George for a while.

For Tom Gallow, 17, the benefits are less concrete, but just as compelling. Gallow volunteered in a day care before coming to college, and said he simply enjoys volunteering and working with children. But this time, he's tutoring a junior in high school who is more of a peer than the pre-schoolers with which he's familiar.

"I was a little skeptical when they told me I would be tutoring pre-calculus," said Gallow, who only finished the subject himself a couple of years ago. But, it seems to be working well, and he's up to the challenge of helping his assigned student prepare for the SAT.

Rising to the challenges of tutoring and volunteering time to help someone else are experiences that Project Politae alumni count among the lasting impressions of campus life.

"Certainly I felt I like I was doing a service for the community," said 25-year-old Melanie Santiago, a 2000 graduate of St. John's who tutored an elementary school pupil during her sophomore and junior years. "And for myself, it helped me with exercising a lot of patience and honing my communication skills to make my communications very precise and simple so that this little girl could understand me well."

Now, Santiago works as a lobbyist for the firm CTB in Annapolis, but her interest in volunteering continues. She's a member of the Jaycees and has participated in a number of projects with them, "like putting together a big holiday food basket project that will give food and clothes and toys to about 100 families."

According to Project Politae coordinator Anne McShane "participation varies throughout the year," but there are usually more Johnnies available to tutor than there are children seeking tutors. McShane, 23, said she has about 15 pupils participating in the project now, but she expects that number to increase gradually as word gets out to parents.

In previous years, a church provided a shuttle to assist with that problem, but that's no longer available. The tutoring occurs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the main classroom building McDowell Hall. Those interested in the project can call McShane at 410-626-2537.

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