Monday, March 10, 2008

Tutoring and Mentoring: Making a World of Difference for A Child

Guest Blog, By Judge Michael B. Hyman, Circuit Court of Cook County

Tutors or mentors can make a powerful difference in a child’s life. They prepare children to reach beyond immediate circumstances. They push children to transcend societal and personal limitations. And assure children that somebody besides those in their household cares for their welfare. The results, as anyone who has done it knows, can change lives, both the child’s and the tutor’s or mentor’s.

Public school classes are too large for a teacher to interact with children individually. Parents or guardians may not have the time, the expertise or the patience necessary to affect or supplement a student’s progress. This explains why tutors and mentors are so vital – tutors and mentors provide undivided attention that can bring about academic or athletic or social growth in a young person, which might otherwise be unattainable or neglected. Tutoring and mentoring positively affirms a child’s feelings of self-worth so they develop as individuals and as human beings, and more effectively achieve their full potential as learners.

I started participating in a tutoring program during my junior year of high school. Every other week, for 90 minutes, I met with a sixth grader from an impoverished area of Philadelphia. The children were brought by bus to my suburban school. I vividly recall the first child I tutored, Matthew. He could barely read, even simple words were difficult for him, and Matthew’s struggle to read affected his self-esteem.

I remember how much he wanted to learn, and how much I wanted him to succeed. Matthew didn’t have someone at home to help him, but he had something else – desire, and as the weeks turned to months, his ability to read slowly, slowly improved. And so did his confidence. By May, although he was still behind many of his peers, the gap had indeed narrowed. In recognition of his progress, I gave Matthew a couple of books about sports to read over the summer. His ear-to-ear smile has never faded from my memory.

Decades later, I am still involved in tutoring and mentoring as a member of board of Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth, a project originally created by the Chicago Bar Association and now an independent not-for-profit organization. Lend-A-Hand to Youth provides guidance, encouragement and support to mentoring and tutoring groups who serve young people in at-risk local communities. We also recruit lawyers to volunteer as tutors and mentors, recognize outstanding programs and participants, and award grants to exceptional programs. We lend more than a hand; we restore hope, and opportunity to economically disadvantaged youth across the Chicago area.

In at-risk communities, parents do what they can for their children but must deal with their own personal quandaries. Tutors and mentors offer a gleam of light for a better future. While tutoring and mentoring cannot erase poverty, crime, or violence, or put an end to neglect, abuse, or irresponsible parenting, it can make a world of difference for a child. To paraphrase the anthropologist Margaret Mead, never doubt that thoughtful, committed tutoring or mentoring can change the world of a child. Indeed, it always has.

I am sure that Matthew would agree!


Thank you Judge Hyman and Lawyers Lend A Hand Program for supporting volunteer based tutoring/mentoring in Chicagoland.

Dan Bassill is a guest blogger today in The College Puzzle blog.

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