Amy Hinderer pulled a deck of playing cards from her purse and placed them on the desk in front of third-grader Skylar Shumate.
“I brought some cards for us to practice our math. You’re going to like it,” Hinderer said. Skylar dealt the cards, while her tutor explained the game: “You’ve got your 10 cards, now put them face down. Now we’re going to turn over two cards, face up. You add your two cards together.” Whoever has the largest number when adding the numbers of the two cards wins all of the cards for that hand, explained Hinderer, a parishioner at St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres.
As the tutor and student played the game, the two chatted about their Halloween plans recently during an after-school tutoring session at St. Louis Catholic Academy. The tutoring program was established more than 14 years ago at the school, located in the Penrose neighborhood of north St. Louis. Today, more than two dozen volunteers from Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in Creve Coeur and St. Clement of Rome visit on Thursday afternoons with students in first through fourth grades.
An emphasis is placed on developing relationships before getting into the academics, said Julie Diemer, first- and second-grade teacher who helps coordinate the tutoring program.
“I tell the tutors it’s not about them getting an A on their spelling test tomorrow, it’s also about the relationship you’re building,” Diemer said. “It’s the relationships and how excited the students are. They ask every day: Is it tutoring today? They look forward to Thursdays.”
Each week, tutors line up in the hallways, each holding a color-coded folder containing worksheet activities focused on spelling, writing and math. They disperse into several classrooms, while another tutoring volunteer comes around with a large box of after-school snacks for the students.
Dede Pitts and Joan Hannegan are among several volunteers who have gone beyond tutoring, typically spending the entire day on Thursdays at the school helping out in the classroom where needed.
“I think having one-on-one time with an adult for these kids is great for us and helpful for them just to have that,” said Pitts, a St. Clement of Rome parishioner. “You get to know the kids and their personalities. We focus on fundamentals of reading and math facts and getting those kids really solid in that. And hopefully that carries on — that’s the goal. The tutoring builds on the whole program to strengthen them.”
Hannegan has been a tutor for about 10 years, noting that the first student she tutored is now a sophomore in high school. She credited the support of parents and teachers at St. Louis Catholic Academy and its supporters, including the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Access Academies and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Hannegan recently reconnected with a student she had tutored last year and observed how quickly he zipped through a math assignment with accuracy. “The one-on-one really helps,” she said. “It builds their confidence, and it’s fun to get to know their personalities.”
Mike Rudolph, an Our Lady of the Pillar parishioner who helps coordinate the volunteers, said he also has seen a boost in students’ confidence.
“It’s the confidence and self-esteem they have that makes them say, ‘You know what? I can do this? If I put my mind to it, I can do this,’” he said. “That’s the greater joy and inspiration, for kids to realize that it might take a little bit of time, but I can figure this out.”
Of course, sometimes tutors have to keep up with their students and the ever-changing technology and methods of learning. Nancy Crippin, an Our Lady of the Pillar parishioner, guided fourth-grader Cahilee Moore in multiplying two-digit numbers using an area model. Wanting to ensure they were on the right track, Crippin took out her iPhone to check her student’s work using a calculator.
“Hey Siri — what’s 50 times eight?” Cahilee announced with a grin.
Volunteers, including those who are semi-retired or retired, are sought for the after-school tutoring program at St. Louis Catholic Academy. Volunteers must have completed the Protecting God’s Children program and undergo a background check. For more information, contact Mike Rudolph at (314) 570-7491 or Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, with the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation at (314) 792-7045.