Maybe you already know that I coordinate a volunteer tutoring program at an inner-city school that sports a poverty rate of nigh unto 100%. If so, and I am about to bore you, I apologize.
Our program’s primary goal is literacy intervention for Kindergarten through 2nd grade students, many of whom may not have received much if any learning-to-read support at home. During the 2010/11 school year, only 19% of third graders and 16% of fourth graders at this school met or exceeded expected proficiency standards in English language arts knowledge and skills. The volunteers who tutor through the program work with Kindergarten through 2nd grade students, reading to them and with them, encouraging and boosting the students’ literacy skills.
My job entails a whole range of duties, and some of the work is not particularly easy for me. For example, I am not much of a public-speaker nor am I good with phones, but occasionally I am required to make cold calls and talk publicly about what I do. Then there is the sometimes complicated task of balancing the needs and concerns of the parish for which I work and the volunteers’ needs and concerns with those of the students, faculty, staff and administration of the school. And during the school year in particular, there is a great deal of running around, paperwork, maintaining of tutoring stations, trying to drum up interest, making sure there are buses for program-funded field trips, training, etc. It can be exhausting and stressful and extremely rewarding all at once.
During the summer, however, the pace slows a bit, and for the most part it is just me and the detritus of the work the volunteers do. This is the time of year I spend doing a lot of cleaning and sorting, repairing and inventorying. I put together the puzzles that were used in the Kindergarten hallway to see if pieces are missing or in need of repair. I shore up the worn corners of their boxes, fixing tears. Putting together puzzles helps the children develop manual dexterity, as well as work on color, pattern and shape recognition.
I throw away the once brightly colored, homemade play-dough that children or volunteers or both have worked into dark greenish-grey masses, having kneaded together red, blue, yellow and green just to see what might become of it all. The plastic tubs are washed and waiting for the new batches of colored dough I will cook up in the early fall.
There are also bins of buttons of varying sizes, shapes and colors to wash and ready for use in the fall. Those are used for sorting, counting, arranging in patterns, and threading on skinny shoelaces, all to encourage fine motor skills in little hands.
There are little plastic bears and letters to wash. There are markers, crayons, and pencils that must be in working order or tossed. There are alphabet and sight-word Bingo games and flash cards that require all their pieces to be effective.
And there are well over a thousand books. Most of late June and all of July I will spend my time making an inventory of the books that spent the school year in tutoring bins in the Kindergarten hallway, or a 1st or 2nd grade classroom, then compare it to last year’s inventory, and determine what the program needs to purchase or otherwise acquire for the year ahead. Along the way, I will repair those that need repair, recycle those beyond repair, and record those that are no longer with us hoping they went home with children who really need them. And I have time, limited but more than during the school year, to sort out just how to pay for new purchases, filling out new grant applications, hunting for new opportunities.
This week I finished the washing up, including the bins the materials sat in for several months at the school as well as the wastebaskets we provided. I am nearly done sorting through the markers, crayons and Bingo games. Books and grants are my main theme for July. I am hoping to have everything done before Kate leaves for chamber camp at the end of the month, and most of it done before I go on another silent retreat in less than two weeks. I would rather not have the grants in particular clamoring for my attention when I go to the river!