UI students tutor local school kids

BY TESSA McLEAN | APRIL 02, 2009 7:42 AM

It takes a lot to get most UI students out of bed at 8 a.m., even if it is for class.

But by 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, four UI students were fully awake in a North Central Junior High classroom with shelves full of textbooks and sports flags hanging from the walls. The group tutored seventh- and eighth-graders on everything from surface area to Spanish conjugations.

Nearly 40 UI students are a part of the recently formed group Tutoring for Excellence, created to help kids at five Iowa City schools.

UI senior Ruhee Arora created the initiative at the beginning of the semester. She said she hopes UI students will be able to receive two or more credit hours for the volunteer program next semester.

The program is a way for students to give back to the community, she said.

“It’s nice to have someone in your life that you can talk to, and maybe they can help you find your niche in what you really, really want to do,” she said. “A lot of the problems in the community are low-income families, or [families] just don’t have enough money with the economy to push their child to take education further.”

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While Iowa continues to have one of the top graduation rates in the country, North Central Junior High teacher Matt Schindler said programs such as Tutoring for Excellence are especially important as Iowa’s education system faces budget cuts. Schindler works in the school’s Success Center Program, where the UI students tutor.

The state graduation rate was 88.7 percent in 2008, according to the Iowa Department of Education. The dropout rate is under 3 percent.

“I think the role model part of it is huge,” Schindler said. “I think that some of the [junior-high] students in this program might not be looking at four-year universities yet, so if they can connect with someone who is currently experiencing that and maybe just see that it’s OK to be successful and smart, hopefully some of the college students can show them that — that it can be a cool thing to be academically versed.”

Arora advertised the program by speaking at classes in several UI departments she chose at random. She said she has around 40 tutors and more than 100 who want to be contacted about tutoring in the fall.

Students meet every day except Thursday at schools in the School District, including Hoover Elementary, Penn Elementary, City High, West High, and North Central Junior High.

UI junior Kelly Barnicle experienced her first day as a tutor Wednesday. She became interested in the program when Arora visited one of her classes.

“We get them to focus a little bit and have a good conversation,” the business management major said. “I’m not the teacher, which is good; I am just a person who makes sure they are doing what they need to do.”

Barnicle is using the tutoring program to complete a 10-hour community service requirement for one of her law classes, but she said she plans to continue with the program next year.

Arora, an Iowa City native, said she hopes to eventually extend the program to other universities in Iowa.

“I hope that we can motivate kids to take education to the next level,” she said.

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