Karysa Murray, a first-time tutor volunteer helps Ferina Mohammed and Yulia Ekubezghi with English in the Building Better Futures program at T.C. Williams.
Photo by Shirley Ruhe/Gazette Packet
The bell rings at 3:15 pm, reverberating off the hallways. School is out at T.C. Williams High School, and a few students start filtering into the library for tutoring assistance under the Building Better Futures (BBF) program supported since its inception in 2003 by the Campagna Center. This program is offered Tuesdays and Thursdays after school for an hour and a half with mostly volunteer tutors. The students pay a $20 program fee, and after that the tutoring and career counseling services are free.
In addition to organizing the after-school tutoring, Marianne Hetzer, director of the BBF program is available during the lunch break from 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. She does unofficial advising and mentoring on SAT prep, college applications, resumes, essays or "just plain encouragement." She describes the BBF program as offering supplemental assistance to students that fall into one or more of three categories: recent immigrants, low-income and/or first generation college hopefuls.
“Yassar, what can I help you with today?" Hetzer, is pairing up students with tutors. Here comes John. "Psychology? Well that isn't really a specific subject we tutor. What are you studying? " The answer is, "Nature vs. nurture." Hetzer thinks a minute and sends John to a liberal arts specialist. She says, "we have math tutors and liberal arts-based specialists. The tutors are scientists and they are very flexible." A new volunteer tutor walks up to join the students standing around waiting for assignments. "This is what I ask a volunteer to do,” Hetzer explains the process.
The new volunteer, Karysa Murray, says her company has a partnership with the school and she is a former reading teacher. "My specialty is bio." Karysa heads off to a table with her yellow card with English in bold letters and is soon joined by Yulia Ekubezghi and Ferina Mohammed. Mohammed asks for the SAT materials and Hertzer sends her "over there, that whole wall."
“We hope the students come twice a week. That is ideal, but some of them are able to come only once a week," she said.
They must bring their work with them, their notes and assignments. "Sometimes they ask for the same tutor. Ideally they create a relationship," she said.
The capacity of the program is 40 students per day. They average about 30. Hetzer said the school is so rich with opportunities that some students do another activity or club first and then come here for tutoring and take the late 5:30 p.m. bus home. Others come right away and take the 4:30 p.m. bus.
She looks up with a smile. "Hi Kendallee. Your mom tells me you might want to work on history and pre-calc today." A shadow creeps across the student's face. "O.K. Guess it's just pre-calc today."
Richard Morton, a tutor for 7-8 years and on the board of the Campagna Center sits at his table waiting for students who need English assistance. "It is extremely rewarding. The students appreciate it, and I think it makes a significant difference." Sometimes students come back and show him a paper that got a really good grade.
Hetzer joins in remembering Amir last year who was registered in the International Academy at TC. He was determined from the beginning that he was not going to take four years to graduate. "He attended every tutoring session, had outside help from his tutor, first year got all A's, took algebra on-line in the summer and this year is in pre-calc. He is a real success story."
Bert walks up to the desk. "O.K. Hang tight — is anybody a physics guy?"
A table in the back is spread with construction paper and scissors. "Today a few students are making Valentines for the residents of Woodbine Nursing Home down the street." A student asks Hetzer to help with the message on her red heart. Hertzer assists by sounding out the words. H-H-H is for Hope. "We do a lot of community service projects as part of the program."
Hetzer has been with the BBF program for three years. The first year she was a site director at T.C. Williams. The second year she was with the college leadership program, an enrichment piece of BBF. Last year she became interim director for the whole BBF program and is now director. Before coming to BBF she was a professional volunteer for 10 years. And before that a director of contracts for defense contractors. "I've done three chunks of stuff.”
She said there are some challenges: “Last Tuesday was interesting. We had six more tutors than we needed for the number of students, but today is the opposite." She looks around the room. Students are bent over their work and everyone has found a tutor.