Tutoring Program: An Interview with Sidwell Friends Student,

Antonia Hitchens
Antonia with Mazia
Lara: What inspired you to start the tutoring club?
Antonia: We had the idea of starting a tutoring program at the end of freshman year.  I think there was a collective feeling that both Sidwell students and the communities we worked with would benefit from a local and ongoing project. As we thought about what we wanted to do for our community service requirements in the coming years, one of the issues that jumped out at us was the public school system in DC: we were both lucky enough to be at Sidwell, but there were thousands of kids who weren't having nearly as valuable an experience as were, and this was something that we wanted our program to contribute to. We knew that no matter what, there was always going to be a great amount of need for learning support to young kids, whether or not their school system was failing. Also, if you work with young children you not only teach them reading and school subjects, they also learn from the example you set, and can in turn strive to succeed which would influence many other aspects of their lives. Regardless of whether or not they were "underprivileged," we thought that a tutoring program would be something very beneficial to the kids from DC public schools. Sidwell has the resources and the desire to help other people, and Kidpower DC liked the idea of partnering with Sidwell to start a tutoring program with the kids in their afterschool program, so we
were lucky enough to be able to get the program started the next fall.

Lara: Is it a challenge to get enough students to show up as tutors regularly throughout the school year?
Antonia: There's a lot of interest in the Kidpower tutoring program, and whether it's for service hours or not, there is a group of people who come regularly. For the number of DC kids who come each week, we have the right amount of student volunteers. Having the Kidpower kids counting on their tutors and expecting them to be there each week, encourages Sidwell students to come regularly, and luckily all the tutors are very devoted. A group of freshman also come each week, as part of their service projects, which introduces them to the program and lets them learn about it, but for the most part I think it's important to make sure each kid has an ongoing relationship with someone who tutors them regularly. One of my favorite things about the program is that the kids arrive from a long bus ride after a whole day of school, and yet run right away to their tutors screaming because they're just so happy to see them.

Lara: Have you received any feedback (from the kids, parents, or schools) about the weekly tutoring sessions? If so, please elaborate on the feedback. If not, are you planning to obtain it in the future?

Antonia: This year was the year when we wanted to get a solid foundation for the program. The Sidwell community is aware of the program and has learned about Kidpower. We now have a group of dedicated tutors and an established weekly tutoring program. Now that there is a fully functional program, it's important to start looking at how to make it better and how to advance, and getting feedback is an important part of this. I think everyone gets feedback from the kids each time they meet-- they complain regularly about doing the civics lessons and tend not to get much out of them, so we're looking
into ways to cover important material in ways in which they'll actually absorb the information and think of learning as more than a chore. We definitely have things we want to add, things we want to get rid of, and things we want to change. Overall we feel that the Kidpower tutoring program has been a great addition to the community, Kidpower kids really enjoy it, and it is an excellent opportunity for Sidwell students to take part in. Since the program is through Kidpower, we haven't yet communicated directly with the families of the kids. But next year we want to have a more open forum in which the parents can come to tutoring class at Sidwell to get a taste of what their kids are involved in, and see the work their kids have done and the progress they have made, as well as to receive feedback from Kidpower staff. I also think that with a program in the early stages as this one is, getting feedback from those directly involved can be really valuable for changes and improvements to the program, so we plan to send out a survey to current tutors so that they can give ideas and recommendations for how to better the program.

Lara:  What are your goals for the future?

Antonia: The tutoring sessions take place once a week for two hours. Although tutors and kids meet regularly, it's still just a small window of time, so we want to make the most of it and are evaluating how to make the program better for next year.  This year, I was talking to one of the girls I work with, and we were writing a letter to President Obama as part of an activity. She asked him to please stop people in her neighborhood from shooting each other and stealing things from stores. Hearing this, I was really shocked because I hadn't fully realized that things like this were truly things that some of the kids we worked with had to face daily. I know that we want the program to go further than just a once a week meeting, and have the Tutoring Club (of which this program is a part) strive to use education as a way of bettering communities that face problems like this. This spring, talking to her buddy, one Sidwell student mentioned the war in Iraq. Her buddy had, first of all, never heard of Iraq, and was not aware that there was a war. We want to not only help the kids with schoolwork, but to help them learn about the world around them and how to make it a better place. In addition to helping with homework and giving the kids help in areas they struggle in or want to improve in, Kidpower supplies a civics curriculum so that tutors and their
buddies can work on lessons about American history. The handbook we currently use is written by Georgetown Day School students for a similar program they had with Kidpower. We hope to update, edit and re-write a new version of the handbook. Also, currently the only thing that the Tutoring Club does is the Kidpower tutoring program. We want to expand as a club and become more established in the community as well as doing some fundraising for Kidpower as an organization, planning other activities and looking at other ways to improve learning and education with youth in the district.

Lara: Are you planning any changes/improvements to the program going forward?

Antonia: Right now what happens with the tutoring program is that the kids arrive, are provided with a snack and a bit of time to catch up with their "buddies," and then start working on the Kidpower civics curriculum, and then work on homework. When (and if) this is all finished, they are allowed to go outside or hang out with their buddies. Lots of the kids are either behind or struggling with some concepts in their homework, so we want to take advantage of the time they have with their tutors to master the concepts. Also, we want to focus more attention on reading skills and the importance of reading, and use the tutoring program as a way to give students practice and help with reading, as well as giving them books and encouraging them to read. Like I said, now that we have the foundation set we want to look at how to improve the program so that we can have the optimal experience for everyone.