"My Turn" Boosts Teen Self-Esteem; Public Library-Public School Project Tries Students as Tutors

Article excerpt

"My Turn' boosts teen self-esteem

Public library/public school project tries students as tutors

NATIONAL CITY IS A CALIFORNIA community of 55,000 near the Mexican border. As in many another American city, the challenges of reading English are accented by our demographics; the community contains many Mexican-Americans and quite a few Asian-Americans.

The National City Public Library has worked closely with the public schools. Our children's conducts story hours and other special programs for school classes and has participated in curriculum development for the elementary school district. Adult services librarians also visit secondary school classes twice a year and provide specialized services. Project READ, the library's adult literacy program, involves the adult high school and community colleges in the area.

After-school tutoring

Three years ago, concerned about the growing dropout rate in local schools, the library applied for and received an LSCA grant for after-school tutoring in the library, where high school students would help junior high pupils.

Tutoring sessions would be spent helping the student with homework and working through study units in such areas as reading comprehension, library use, spelling/vocabulary, and study skills. The idea was to help adolescents improve school performance, gain self-esteem, keep busy and out of trouble, and use the library effectively. The tutoring would take place in the library, a comfortable, convenient place to seek assistance.

The city librarian and the project director met with local school principals and the Sweetwater Union High School district superintendent to learn what district-wide dropout and illiteracy prevention programs were operating or being planned so our effort would not duplicate others.

Training tutor recruits

Prospective tutors, some with counseling experience, were contacted through the high school's peer counseling teacher.

As an incentive to recruit and retain tutors--for some, this was a first work experience--we offered a minimum wage. Tutors were given an additional six hours' training. Training helped them understand how a student who is failing might feel, what is involved in improving reading, and techniques for teaching the units and for maintaining discipline. A contact person in each junior high school became responsible for referring students and providing liaison, deciding which students needed peer tutoring, and contacting parents to get both the parents' and student's initial agreement to participate.

Tutoring started October 1, 1985, and was renewed for 1986-87. Dubbed "Municipal Youth Tutoring for Understanding,' the program became known as "Project My Turn.'

Tutoring was offered at the library twice a week for National City Junior High School students, and twice a week in the school library for Granger Junior High School students. Recruiting students was slow at first. Off-campus tutoring was less attractive than school-based tutoring, and many students were simply not interested in learning for learning's sake; they saw no point in working hard at something that had frustrated them so often.

Mediators improve motivation

We found it essential to develop a "contact person'--someone with time to talk to both students and parents in the school-- who knew how the program worked. Once trained, these mediators chose students to be tutored, contacted the student's parent(s), and explained the program in detail, seeking parental consent. The mediator conferred frequently with a student until the student accepted tutoring.

Motivation was a big problem--no grades or credits were given. In the beginning, to get students to attend off-campus tutoring, we had to pick up groups at the school and walk them to the library.

During our two-year program we trained 37 tutors who eventually tutored 171 students. …