Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can the University provide volunteer training and why should it get involved?

This is a guest article, written by Anastasia Mirzoyants, MA ESL, a member of the Owens Corning Mentorship Program Task Force, University of Toledo.
The alarming observations on current conditions of American system of education as compared to educational environments and outcomes of other global communities turned fruitful for the growth of American population’s interest in volunteering in general, and public schools mentoring/tutoring in particular. Volunteerism is no more profession or age specific; it involves people of a wide variety of life paths.
However, this diversified group has one characteristic in common, the one that also serves as a major reason preventing active public involvement with schools: 95% of tutors-to-be are not familiar with the curriculum and, thus, are not comfortable presenting the material to their potential tutees. This is especially true for math and science, the subjects that school children are struggling with the most but also the subjects that scare away volunteers.

The apprehension individuals experience is initiated either by the absence of information or by the inability to make the information relevant to one’s activities. Thus, the most reasonable approach to reassuring tutor/mentors’ recruitment and retention is to provide them with training opportunities: to introduce them to the curriculum and help develop the skills to build it in their tutoring/mentoring sessions.

The big question then is, who and how will take on the leading role in providing such trainings? There are several preexisting conditions that make the university be the most appropriate entity to function as a learning-basis for local tutor/mentorship programs.

First of all, it is a vital interest of a university to ensure the consistency of well-prepared student population enrollment through raising the level of literacy and math/science proficiency among school students. Consequently, quality tutor/mentorship programs are as beneficial for the future achievement of a university as they are for the current progress of public schools.

Second, being a research and innovation center of the community, the university possesses all the necessary resources including, but not limited to: materials; experiential knowledge; creative methodologies and techniques; faculty expertise, ability to evaluate an measure the program; ability to identify additional funders; and existing programs (for example, trainings and certificate programs for teachers). Thus, it seems to be efficient to utilize the resources that are already in place rather than create a volunteers’ training from the scratch.

Third, by securing its place in public schools volunteering initiatives, the university gains an access to resources for further research and pilot-trials of innovative techniques. In addition, through its field presence, the university has a chance to gather more accurate information about contemporary educational context that it strives to improve.

And finally, while reaching out to tutors and mentors, the university takes a step to more active and productive involvement with the community, overcomes its semi-isolated position, and improves public perception on its leadership role and social value.

Unfortunately, universities are not always aware of their image within the community and the benefits of being more involved in the everyday life of local population. Thus, it is important for the volunteer-based organizations and activist groups to bring to the attention of a university administration the importance and the ways for the university to be a part of the community and pursue public interests as well as its own developmental needs.

Ms. Mirzoyants and Ellen Ingram, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, University of Toledo, will be hosting a discussion at the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference on Thursday, May 17. If you'd like to learn more about attending the conference, visit http://www.tutormentorconference.org

Since most people can not come to Chicago for this conference, this question is also posted on the Tutor/Mentor Connection Discussion Forum. We invite you to log in and post your responses to this question.

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