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Tutoring program helps Baltimore kids

Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church’s effort in 46th year

July 21, 2010

STATESVILLE, N.C.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations responding to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s call to "Grow Christ's Church Deep and Wide." The call to grow in evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and diversity was adopted by the 2008 General Assembly and renewed by the 2010 General Assembly. — Jerry L. Van Marter

Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore recently wrapped up another successful year of tutoring.

While tutoring is a fairly popular community outreach for churches, it’s not just a trend at Brown Memorial — it's a 46-year-old tradition.

The program was started by member Mary Taylor who felt it was important for the church to help the community. Initially, two neighborhood elementary schools participated. The program has since grown to include a third school.

"Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church has a rich tradition of engagement with their community," said the Rev. Peter Nord, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Baltimore.  "The tutoring program is perhaps the oldest of these programs. It has done a great deal to enrich both the members of the church and the children in the community."

This year, the church worked with 84 disadvantaged children, many of whom have learning disabilities. Five students were tutored twice a week, and the rest met for one session a week, making for 89 tutoring sessions a week. Sixty volunteer tutors staff the program, which runs from September to May.

The tutors participate in workshops and complete a two-day training before working with the students, said Martha Socolar, director of the program. The tutors are trained in a phonetic approach to reading, which works well for all children but is particularly useful for those with learning disabilities.

While the tutors are in training, Socolar meets with the school principals and teachers. The teachers are given referral forms to recommend children for the program. Children are then matched with a tutor. Once parents give their permission, tutoring starts in October.

Unlike many tutoring programs, which take place after school, students are picked up at school during the day and brought to the tutoring center. There, they work one-on-one with their tutor for an hour and 15 minutes. Morning and afternoon sessions are held Monday through Thursday.

Socolar said that conducting the program during the day is helpful because the children are not already worn out from the day.

"We start from where the child is and move forward — this is not just homework help," Socolar said, noting another benefit of working during the day instead of after school.

"Our tutors offer not only reading help but they are mentors as well. They give the children a positive environment to build self-confidence. They get loving support from their tutors," Socolar said.

As for the missed time at school, it’s not a problem.

"These kids are already behind, so the missed school time doesn't hurt because generally they were getting nothing out of it anyway," Socolar said.

Tutoring sessions are individual, but participants are connected by a yearly theme and related activities. This year, it was animals. At the end of each session, there is circle time where all the students gather together to share what they've learned. 

Just last week, Brown Memorial held its annual end-of-the-year celebration, and Socolar noted that more than 200 people showed up. 

"That's very rewarding because we get to meet the parents, and they are very grateful for our work," Socolar said. "The children are proud of what they've done too. It’s just really nice to get thanks from the parents."

Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also church secretary for First Presbyterian Church.

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