By: Kristin Handley, Contributing Writer
Towson University students are tutoring sixth, seventh and eighth grade Baltimore City students in math as part of the America Counts program.
America Counts tutor Rachel Schmitz said that being a tutor is about helping students improve their math skills, and being a mentor to the kids, too.
“In past semesters, I’ve seen students grow in their mathematical abilities,” Schmitz said. “They’ve gotten better with multiplication, division and solving equations. However, they’ve also learned that if they work hard then they’re capable of getting good grades. Once they realize that they’re capable of doing math, they become excited by the thought that they could go to college and be whatever they want.”
Baltimore City public school teachers select students to participate in America Counts who have demonstrated effort in the classroom, but need more one-on-one tutoring, said Sylvia Otieno, Towson’s America Counts program coordinator.
“Tutors have been really inspiring to the kids that they are tutoring because the kids look up to the tutors as someone in college who’s taking time out of their day to come help them,” she said.
Otieno said the partnership between TU tutors and the middle school students is strengthened by the fact that the two groups are closer in age than the students and their classroom teachers.
“College students are the closest thing they have to an adult that is still not too far from their age.” Otieno said.
In addition to tutoring students at five Baltimore City public schools, Towson students also volunteer and do federal work study at the Department of Juvenile Services evening reporting center. Each of Towson’s America Counts tutors works between one and 20 hours per week.
“The students who attend the Department of Juvenile Services must come to the evening reporting center after school to get homework help and have access to different resources,” Otieno said.
Schmitz said that some of the students she tutors did not receive the necessary encouragement while growing up.
“Some of these kids have been told that they’re stupid and that they won’t succeed, and because they come from an impoverished area they often do not have people in their lives telling them that education is important,” Schmitz said.
Through the America Counts program, the student perspective on education changes for the better, Schmitz said.
“You’d be surprised at how their attitude towards school changes when you encourage them,” she said.
Otieno has only been coordinating the program for a few months, but she said she has already seen the difference it has made on the community and all of the people who work behind the scenes to make it happen.
Schmitz said she has worked as an America Counts tutor for several semesters. She said the opportunities to be a positive influence in the students’ lives and practice the skills she will use as a teacher are some of the reasons she continues coming back.
“There are multiple reasons I’ve returned to America Counts for several semesters,” Schmitz said. “The primary reason is that the kids look forward to being tutored, and it feels really good to have a positive impact in their lives. I also get a lot of practice explaining mathematical concepts, which will help me in the future when I become a teacher.”
To get involved with America Counts, Towson students must pass at least one University level math course, or have learned at least a 500 in Math on their SAT.
Students who are interested becoming America Counts tutors and who meet those requirements will undergo a daylong orientation. During that orientation, students learn what is expected of them as tutors, as well as different games and learning strategies they can use to help their younger counterparts excel in math, Otieno said.
Students who are on work study may be eligible to work and get paid as an America Counts tutor.
Schmitz encourages students who aren’t on work study to volunteer as a tutor. She said being a tutor has had a huge effect on her own life.
“When I was a freshman I didn’t really know what I wanted to major in,” Schmitz said. “I had considered teaching math before, but working with America Counts made me realize that I’m really passionate about math education, and that I love being a mentor to students as well.”
Featured image courtesy of Alan Levine.