MONTREAL, JULY 5, 2012 – From the first day of elementary school to the last day of university, one would be hard pressed to a student excited for their alarm clock to buzz and get ready for school.
However, for a group of students from St. Raphael Centre in Ahuntsic, that’s precisely the case.
In fact, every Monday and Tuesday morning during the past school year, it was not a special activity or field trip that got these kids excited, but a math class.
While the subject matter mirrored that of any other classroom, it was their company that was a bit different. Sitting next to these students were a group of tutors from McGill University, who were ready and willing to not just solve for “X”, but help resolve any other issue as well.
The tutoring/mentoring program was the brainchild of Anthony Claro, a Ph.D. student in the field of School/Applied Child Psychology. At the beginning of the 2011 – 2012 school year, he carefully selected a group of Psychology or Sociology students who were not simply looking to tutor, but become mentors as well.
“I often heard students talk about how they appreciated the volunteers coming in and how they wish they could come more than twice per week,” said Claro. “The staff definitely appreciated it as well. As you can imagine, it's difficult to teach a class of children with such diverse needs, so having the tutors facilitate the lessons is pretty beneficial.”
For the staff of St. Raphael Centre, while they definitely appreciated the help, they also saw a significant change in the students’ attitudes.
“It’s fantastic,” said Math teacher Robert Ruffalo. “You can’t get better than one on one tutoring. The ones that are having issues, you put a tutor next to them and when they did not understand, they did not have to raise their hand and wait for the teacher. This ensured that they were not falling behind. Even if they started off a bit behind, they had someone right next to them to help catch them up.”
“They really looked forward to the girls coming because they were not just getting academic help but the girls also stayed later to talk to the kids. They appreciated the interpersonal relationships and they really enjoyed that aspect of the program,” added Ruffalo. “If you make them happy, they will be happier to be in school and they will come more often. Some of them did not want to miss this class.”
These relationships were also the highlights for the tutors and Claro.
“The tutors loved it. They were only asked for a one semester commitment, but every single one of them chose to stay on until the end of the school year,” added Claro. “The real positive impact that the program had was on the relationships built between the kids and the volunteers. The kids were given an opportunity to talk to someone on an intimate level about what was going on in their lives and they were able to open up and have candid discussions with adults, an opportunity that they normally wouldn't have.”
“Some just opened up and talked about everything. If they were having a bad day, some tantrums, and we were working with them, they would want to talk about it,” said Jacquelyn Saracuse, a tutor in the program. “It was a learning experience for us, but it was something we all looked forward to.”
“It took some time to get to know the kids and their personalities, but it was successful,” added Marie-Michelle Boulanger. “They were starting to be more trusting and realize that we were there to help them. Some of them were not so trusting at first, but they warmed up. It took a few weeks, but worked.”
The efforts of Claro and the tutors were reinforced every so often by visits from players from the Montreal Alouettes. The professional athletes also took on mentoring role, reinforcing strong morals and good behavior.
“I think the kids quickly started to get the picture and that they needed to change internally before they can become successful,” said Claro. “The visits from the Alouettes and the work with the tutors really changed their outlook. It hopefully marked the beginning of these students being back on the right path.”