St. Bon's students tutor younger kids at community centre
Grade 4 student Breanna Somerton uses an abacus to solve a math problem at Rennie's River Elementary Thursday. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Breanna Somerton flicks wooden beads across an abacus, her eyes trained on them as she solves the mathematical puzzle in her head.
A Grade 4 student at Rennie's River Elementary in St. John's, Breanna said she finds solutions more quickly when she uses the counting tool.
"It really helps me a lot, and it's easier to use," she says.
But using the abacus wasn't her idea. It came from her tutor, one of 15 St. Bonaventure's College high school students volunteering as math tutors at the MacMorran Community Centre.
"It's really fun," Breanna said.
While Breanna is learning multiplication tables, Melissa Abbott, a Grade 5 student, is learning fractions with her tutor.
She said the help from the St. Bon's students has been great.
"They want me to try it on my own, and if I can't get it they'll help me with it," she says.
Kim Abbott, Melissa's mom, values the program too. She said the tutors offer fresh knowledge about math that most parents don't have.
"I like the program because today's math is so different from when we went to school," she says.
She remembers trying to help Melissa's older brother with some homework a while back.
"We came to the right answer, but he failed a test because he had all the answers right but the work was wrong," she said.
Sonya Clarke-Casey, a co-ordinator at the centre, said the tutors have added a spark to the program since they started volunteering in October.
"The children love it," she said.
Clarke-Casey said younger children tend to look up to the older tutors, who are setting a good example while also teaching academics.
"When (the students) come up, they no longer say, 'I'm signing up for math tutoring,' they say, 'I'm signing up for Zach.'... They are really becoming mentors."
Meanwhile, parents say their children are doing better and having more success finishing homework, Clarke-Casey said.
Melissa's tutor, Grade 11 student Paddy Thompson, said it's rewarding to see kids progress and form student-teacher bonds.
"The kids are really nice and they look up to us a lot. We're making a difference," he said.
"The hardest part is keeping them focused, but you do see progression as you go."
Not all the St. Bon's students are teaching math. Dimitra Kusudi, also a Grade 11 student, teaches ball hockey and piano. But like Paddy, she said there's something special about young people tutoring and coaching younger people.
"I think it's good to have a younger (teacher) with them because they can relate to you," she said.
While Dimitra acknowledged volunteerism takes time out of students' already busy schedules, she said it's worth the effort.
"It is hard sometimes," she said.
"Sometimes you have a lot of other things to do, but in the end you really enjoy coming here and giving something of yours to someone else."
But Gerard Ryan says it's not just the younger students who are gaining from the experience. The St. Bon's religion teacher, who initially got the students to volunteer, said the tutors are benefiting as well.
"(They) might go in to teach particular students, but I'm also being taught as well," he said.
"In terms of our students, some of our students are gifted at math. It has always been our focus at the school that if you're gifted in a particular subject, it's not just for your own personal advancement but should be for the community itself."
He said the MacMorran math and extracurricular programs challenge students to be committed to a project on an ongoing basis and to realize the importance of education.