April 4, 2011 — More than 1,200 local youths are finding academic help and building relationships with more than 450 University of Virginia tutors this year through U.Va.'s Day in the Life Program.
Some of the tutors volunteer, but most receive credit for their work through courses they're taking that include a service learning component. These courses once were offered only through the Curry School of Education, but the Day in the Life program is expanding because faculty in other schools at U.Va. – including the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Engineering and Applied Science – have incorporated tutoring as part of service learning components in their courses, explained Ida Lee Wootten, director of Community Relations, the office where the program is based.
As a result, in the last two academic years, Day in the Life has had a 47 percent increase in tutors, a 21 percent increase in service hours and a 97 percent increase in number of area youth being served through the program, she said.
The Community Relations office started Day in the Life in 2002 in response to yearlong conversations with local citizens and civic leaders who asked U.Va. to help promote academic achievement among local minority youth and to encourage their interest in higher education.
The program began with 34 U.Va. students mentoring 34 local youths, according to program directory Danny Wilmer. In the past eight-plus years, more than 2,220 U.Va. students have provided 67,921 service hours to 5,616 local youth.
U.Va. students provide tutoring on a range of subjects and at a variety of levels. They serve athletes, scholars and musicians; and provide after-school tutoring, in-class tutoring and teacher assistance, and tutoring for in-school suspension.
The tutoring sessions take place at 22 different sites throughout the Charlottesville area, including schools, churches and nonprofit organizations. Employees at the different locations serve as supervisors.
"For most of the children, it's hard for them to get consistency in their lives," Wilmer said. "They can dream about a goal, but it's harder for them to reach it. The tutors give children someone to look up to and think, 'I can be that.'"
University students bring consistency to the lives of these children, while simultaneously improving their own. The volunteer work is personally gratifying, said Jae Hoon Park, a fourth-year electrical engineering major.
"I love the opportunity to tutor young students," she said. "It brings a lot of satisfaction when they understand the concepts."
Park also appreciates the intimacy that can be fostered between tutor and tutee. "Bonding with students is worth more than helping them finish a math worksheet," she said.
Several other students, as well as teachers, reinforce her sentiments.
Curry School Ph.D. candidate Gail Lovette said the program has its own set of benefits for the volunteers. The Curry class she teaches – EDIS 2880: Field Experience – requires students to fulfill 15 hours of observing and interacting with youth through a local program prior to applying to the Curry School program. Several use the Day in the Life to complete this assignment and gain real-world knowledge of the teaching profession.
"Day in the Life helps students to understand the rewards and challenges of working with youth, as well as to visualize themselves as teachers," she said.
And even for those students who eventually realize teaching may not be their calling, Lovette said, the program has still made a huge impact on two lives.
Like Lovette, Motana Gaffney, another Curry graduate student, noted that "many of the tutors from my class continue after the semester, as they realize what a difference they make in the lives of children in need of support."
Christopher Vaccarello, a fourth-year systems engineering and economics major, said he takes pleasure in watching the evolution of his student. Vaccarello has volunteered at the Zion Union Baptist Church tutoring program for four years. "He goes above and beyond in meeting his student any time, day or night," Wootten said.
"The same students come year after year," Vaccarello said, "so it's really cool to see them grow and mature. I've even gotten the chance to see a couple of the students compete in high school sports."
The dedication and commitment U.Va. students bring to the Zion Union tutoring site are among the reasons the site – which draws students from Fluvanna, Greene, Albemarle and Charlottesville – stands out as a stellar example of success, Wootten said. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, all 29 students receiving tutoring at Zion Union advanced to the next grade level. Two students earned straight A's, and nine others earned A's and B's.
In recognition of its success, the program has received grant support over the years. Currently it's backed by Dave Matthews' Bama Works Fund and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.
Advanced preparation is imperative, Wilmer said of the program.
"You need to help the kids early, before they get to the eighth, ninth and 10th grade," he said. "They have to be ready and reading and competing on their grade level so that when they do get to the eighth grade, they can start taking more intense courses."
U.Va. students offer their tutoring skills, but more importantly, they share their life stories. "For children to see how far these college students have come gives them more hope for their own futures," said Marcia Johnson, community outreach coordinator for the program. "They see themselves as college students in the making."