As School on Wheels of Massachusetts expands from 12 to 15 program sites, the organization that provides schooling help to homeless youth is seeking new volunteer tutors.
“The tutors are the program,” said Robin Gilbert, the organization’s operations director. ”They’re everything to us.”
For the 450 tutors needed, the requirements aren’t stringent: They must go through a training session and be 18 years or older or have an adult accompany them to tutoring sessions. But Gilbert says the hope is that applicants will be flexible, open-hearted, and committed to the program.
“We talk about having a caring adult showing up every week to care for the child,” she said.
Matt Fortino, a tutor and recent graduate of Stonehill College, says he does just that.
Fortino, 22, started volunteering at the organization sporadically three years ago. It was only last year, when he started tutoring at the Old Colony YMCA Youth Branch in Brockton, that he made a firm commitment to the program.
He met weekly with a student named Christian for an hour, helping him with his homework and developing a relationship.
“Being able to come back to the same student was nice,” he said. “You get to see the progress. You really feel like you’re doing your part. You can see their strengths and weaknesses.”
Ruth Pinkus, a tutor who joined the program in January and tutored at Brockton’s Lincoln Tech, recalled a similar bond with her two students, Angela and Jocelyn.
“I would ask, ‘How was your weekend?’ ” said Pinkus, 61, of Canton. ”We talked about school. We definitely looked forward to seeing each other.”
The program’s newest sites will be at the Roy Street Shelter in Fall River, the Starr Transition House in Brockton, and Randolph High School. Tutors work out of the schools, hotels, and shelters the program has partnered with in Brockton, Stoughton, Norwell, New Bedford, Randolph, Fall River, and Weymouth, and are matched with students in kindergarten through 12th grade. As for what they work on, it varies.
“We like to say we concentrate on math and reading, but we help with whatever they need help with,” Gilbert said.
And yet in the same way tutors help their students, those students, perhaps unknowingly, can help their tutors, too.
When Cindy Sparks, an East Bridgewater resident, thinks about her three years tutoring at the Old Colony YMCA Youth Branch, she remembers what surprised her.
“I feel I got more out of it than the student does,” Sparks, 56, said.
Sparks, who hopes to return to the program in the fall, said would-be tutors need not think that they have to be especially knowledgeable in order to help.
“I think sometimes people are nervous that they’re not going to be able to offer something or know how to do the work, but the most important part isn’t knowing how to do the math or do the work, but being a constant person there for them,” she said.
School on Wheels of Massachusetts started in 2004 after the state organization’s founder, Cheryl Opper, read about the program’s California base. Opper began training volunteer tutors at her kitchen table, working with 20 children a week, according to the program’s website. Since then, the program has blossomed.
It now works with more than 200 students a week at its 15 program sites. Tutors work with students once a week for an hour.