09/14/09 — Volunteers offer assistance with tutoring as schools battle budget cuts

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Volunteers offer assistance with tutoring as schools battle budget cuts

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 14, 2009 1:49 PM

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Rovonda Freeman, right, minority health coordinator with the Wayne County Health Department, talks with Lisa Tart, Grantham School principal, center, and Tomekia Hutchins, a Title I parent coordinator, left, during a recent volunteer training workshop at Brogden Middle School. Thirty-five county workers have stepped forward to accept a challenge made by County Manager Lee Smith to support the schools as mentors and volunteers.

Despite the economic strain budget cuts have placed on school systems, tutoring options are still available for struggling students.

Wayne County Public Schools strives to provide additional academic support during the year, officials said.

The district has already felt the pinch of the cutbacks.

"Funds were cut last year for after school programs," said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Some stimulus money has been forthcoming, which will benefit five Title I schools.

"We still do not have the budget details on what's available," she said.

Parents should not wait until the student is in crisis, or the end-of-grade tests are looming and it's potentially too late to do adequate preparation.

"It is extremely important for your child to request tutoring as soon as he or she starts having problems with a class or course," said Joyce Cunningham, director of math and science for WCPS. "The sooner that tutoring assistance is received, the better the chance your child will be able to improve his or her understanding of the class or course material and become an independent, successful learner."

Each school in the district is supposed to have options available for helping students strengthen their academic skills, Dr. McCullen said.

"Most of the tutoring programs are doing it during the school day now," she said. "There's some teachers that are paid to tutor -- we also have some volunteers -- each individual school is different."

Some of the schools have what is called "supplemental education services," she said, but transportation is not provided.

"We don't really have a list. All of them are trying to do something," she said. "Parents need to inquire at their child's school."

Depending on the school's setup, it may be fifth period or ninth period, when individual or group tutorials are provided, she said.

Other ways of enlisting help are being introduced, starting with an initiative introduced at last month's school board meeting by County Manager Lee Smith. Smith challenged other county workers, as well as the community at large, to consider volunteering in the schools to pick up the slack created by budget cuts and lack of parental involvement in some areas.

The response for the local government initiative has been positive, Dr. McCullen said. Thirty-five volunteers turned out for the first training session Thursday night at Brogden Middle School.

"Different people from the school system talked about their strategies, learning styles, how to be a good volunteer," she said. "They will be assigned to the schools that they have requested."

While the emphasis will be on getting helpers in the middle schools, other requests will be honored, Dr. McCullen said.

"It's up to the individual as to how often (they volunteer)," she said. "Some want to help with the graduation project at Goldsboro High School. Others will volunteer in the classroom or at a ballgame. I think Lee Smith's working to get more males involved."

Sue Guy, human resources director for the county, said response to Smith's challenge came not only from county workers -- including some county commissioners -- but also from the surrounding business community.

"Some want to be mentors, some want to be tutors and some are volunteering for projects," she said. "Some are volunteering as a group -- for example, social services. They will ask for a project, whether it's a fundraiser, science fair or special event."

Fortunately for the school system, that program is representative of others being considered or introduced around the county.

"Groups like the National Honor Society and other student groups are volunteering. Students like to learn from other students," Dr. McCullen said. "We also have after school 4-H programs. Some are enrichment programs next summer. We are in the planning stages of that right now."

For parents of at-risk students, schools are required to make a personal education plan, she said. Parents are advised to discuss strategies with teachers for "filling in the gaps for what (students) don't know."

Teachers can also provide information on tutoring options, Mrs. Cunningham said. Be aware that there may also be computer programs available for the child to use after school.

"Many schools have purchased a license for programs such as 'Study Island' and are able to allow students to access the computer program by Internet at home," she said.

Students can also access many of their textbooks online, through electronic versions that support the N.C. Standard Course of Study, Mrs. Cunningham said.

Churches and community agencies are also joining the ranks by offering after school programs and tutorial programs. And Wayne County Public Library -- through the efforts of Friends of the Library, the library and WCPS -- offer academic assistance through its Dial-A-Teacher program weekdays from 5 to 8 p.m. The free homework help line has been around for 26 years.

Manned by current and retired certified teachers, the number is 735-1990.

Certainly, there are also tutorial businesses springing up all over for paying customers who need academic help for their child. But since the majority of parents are not able to afford such services, officials hope to provide reassurance that help is available.

"So far we haven't heard any parent say that they can't find a tutor program, but that doesn't mean we won't," she said. "What we have done is ask schools to provide every opportunity they can to help students."

For parents who may not have done so, or find themselves in need of such services, Dr. McCullen recommends contacting schools and principals to make arrangements.

"The teachers have really stepped up to the plate and provided the services that they think their students need," she said. "And it was effective when you see the student achievement results -- 90.6 percent of our schools made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress)."