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After School Program at Edison
Making a Difference in the World
Jim Kildow, Edison Student Volunteer

I have put in over 60 hours at the afterschool program. As a result I like to consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the mechanics of the program – how it works, why it works, and what needs fixing.

Originally I had assumed this option for the final was provided only as an easy way to get more tutors for the program. By the end of my first day, I understood why this option is so relevant to the goals of the class: Good communications skills and the ability to develop them on the fly are absolutely critical to getting anything done with the kids. It’s a sink or swim environment where good communication and critical thinking skills are an absolute must.

Communication skills are critical to making a difference in the program, but the other pillars of Edison Community College’s core values are just as important.  Of course, where good communications skills go, good interpersonal skills soon follow. Everyone knows that tutoring kids is a service to the world. To actually tutor them is to demonstrate that value – this is the presence of ethics. Critical thinking is a must as the children regularly behave in ways that are unpredictable and say things you cannot possibly have a response prepared for – How does one react if a kid asks, “Are you a hundred years old?” or “Why is your hair that color?” or “What’s your address?” I had one scenario where a child began to cry because he realized he was going to have to erase a picture he drew on the whiteboard. There were three other tutors on the scene. Everybody froze. I had to think on my toes. An idea came to me and I said, “What if I take a picture of it, that way it will last forever?” I photographed his drawing for him and he said he was happy but he still didn’t want to erase it. I told him that erasing the picture was my favorite part and said, “How about we erase the picture together?” When the kid left the room to get a snack the other tutors congratulated me for my quick thinking. I still have that picture on my phone.

There’s a great level of diversity in the program. We have kids of all ages, all social standings, but to me the major difference between each kid is how they behave and how much help they need.  We see a remarkable spectrum of behavior in the kids, from those who are unpredictable and wild to those who really want to learn, who appreciate the help and don’t mind paying it forward by helping the younger kids. There are some kids I’ve struggled to teach basic addition to and others who are capable of solving multiplication problems in the thousands’ place. Some kids need all the help they can get. Others hardly need anything more than to be supervised. I have one student who originally couldn’t add single digit numbers. Now I’ve gotten him up to adding together four digit numbers without much difficulty. When it comes down to it, no two kids are alike and they all need something different if they’re going to succeed.

As their tutors, it’s our job to help these kids along their mission to learn. One has to respect their will to learn even if they’re behind pace – especially if they’re behind pace. I have one student whose reading level is about three grades behind what it should be, but he tries harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s easily one of the best behaved kids we’ve got. In the wrong hands, I can see someone saying, “You’re too far behind. You’ll never catch up.” We can never be that person.

The program to me feels absolutely critical. I know we have made a difference in the lives of these kids. Many of these kids do not have an alternative to this program. We may very well be the thin red line that separates success from failure for them. I grew up a somewhat neglected child in Greenville. I didn’t have a safety net. Before we came along, neither did some of these kids. As a kid I wished I had a safety net. I am glad to be that saving force in these kids’ lives.

I’ve gained a lot through this program. I feel like a part of my community, I care much more about the town I live in. I feel like I understand the art of communicating much better and feel that conversation comes easier, that I can more easily say what’s on my mind. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world. Finally, I am.

One recommendation I’d make for the program is providing tips or guidelines for the tutors to get the most out of their time with their students. We have a couple tutors around the program with experience in the education field who, naturally, know certain tricks the less experienced volunteers don’t know for keeping kids on task and getting them to follow orders, as well as tricks for getting them to better understand the material at hand. I think it would help to share some of this knowledge with the tutors without that experience, either via written materials, online sources or via briefings before the tutoring commences. I can see taking a couple minutes before the kids show up to discuss different tips, tricks and suggestions for helping the kids. This is not to deemphasize critical thinking skills but to help the kids get the most out of their time with us.

Another issue I’d like to see dealt with is establishing protocols for how to handle a student who is misbehaving. I’m still not sure how to deal with students who aren’t behaving themselves. I hate the idea of having to install punishments but unfortunately even the best kids don’t always behave themselves. What do we do when two kids are playing and they get too rough? What about kids who are being too loud in the quiet room? What do I do if a student persistently avoids doing work? I think we should establish some protocols for what to do in these scenarios. I’m less concerned with punishment and more concerned with behavioral reinforcement.

Another thought I’ve had is that instead of showing movies, perhaps on some days we could play some child-friendly educational videos on YouTube. I’m not sure how ubiquitous these are. As this was my idea, if you’re interested, I could browse around and see if I can find some channels that meet that description – PBS and the like.

I believe that the program would run more smoothly and we would get more consistent and effective behavior out of our tutors if we were to establish more rapport among them. I am not entirely sure how to go about this. The first step, at least, would be getting the tutors to learn each other’s names. I have found that most of the tutors don’t know or don’t remember most of the other tutors’ names. It’s hard to establish rapport when you don’t know the name of the person you’re talking to, and as it is inherently awkward to ask someone their name at any point beside when you first start talking to someone, a lot of the volunteers seem afraid to ask.

Getting the tutors to learn each other’s names would be the first step toward establishing more camaraderie. I am not exactly sure what would be the second step, but I wouldn’t mind doing some brainstorming to see what we can come up with.

Overall, I think the program is going pretty smoothly. My main concern is getting the most out of the time we have with the kids, primarily through distribution of education advice among the tutors and through swift and effective behavioral reinforcement among the kids that would weed out problem behavior and encourage learning – it might even help to contact one of the Psych 101 professors to get some ideas.

Jim has completed 65.5 hours in Empowering Darke County Youth’s After School Program on the Edison Darke County Campus. To get details about his assignment, go to Edison Students Speak Out

To get more details about Empowering Darke County Youth and the After School Program, go to the Empowering Darke County Youth link.

This opinion is being published with permission, and was chosen for CNO readers due to the quality of the assignment submission and relevance of the topic. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of County News Online or Edison State Community College.

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