By giving up a few hours of freedom each weekend, high school students are hoping to make a big difference in the academic achievement of many elementary school children in Fairfax County.
A group of public high school students has created a free mentoring and tutoring program as a way to help children from low-income families with schoolwork. The program hosts multiple two-hour study sessions on Saturdays and Sundays and is geared primarily to students in elementary school, with a few seventh- and eighth-graders also attending.
“We don’t only tutor. We are also inspiring them as leaders to give back” to their communities, said Abrar Omeish, 16, a junior at Robinson Secondary School. She is a co-founder of Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education (GIVE), the student group leading the tutoring efforts.
During tutoring sessions, when students take a snack break provided by GIVE volunteers, tutors talk to the elementary students as a group about issues in their community such as environmental conservation and ways they can help or give back at their own schools, Omeish said. Since its founding last year, GIVE has drawn volunteer tutors from as many as 10 of the school system’s 25 regular high schools.
The program began as a collaboration of two individual free tutoring programs started by Omeish and co-founder Kevin Cao, 16, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Beginning in October, GIVE expanded its efforts from hosting tutoring sessions only at the Mason District Governmental Center in Annandale to a countywide program. As a result, GIVE members said they are seeing more students donating time to help more of their younger peers.
“We had a very high demand after the first year. We originally had maybe 15 kids [come to be tutored]. But after that year, we had 70 kids show up,” Cao said.
Each tutoring session draws about 30 to 35 elementary school students. The goal is to pair them one-on-one with high school tutors. During any given weekend, GIVE’s 90 to 100 tutors help about 150 kids with homework, Cao said. “I was inspired to found GIVE after I volunteered” at Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, he said. “There weren’t a lot of resources available for free.”
Although GIVE primarily tutors students from low-income homes, student volunteers said the demographics and ages of students are diverse.
“A lot of the parents maybe don’t speak English and don’t understand the [curriculum] material,” Cao said.
“That’s one of our major concerns,” Omeish said. “At my [tutoring] center, we have a lot of parents who may be well off [financially], but they just moved to the country and don’t understand the curriculum.”
To help match the supply of tutors with the demand from elementary school students, GIVE members have reached out to schools through existing organizations such as high schools’ National Honor Societies.
W.T. Woodson High School’s National Honor Society picks a service project to support each year, said senior David Tannenbaum, 18, who is president of the society. “It’s really awesome. I’ve noticed, beyond the teaching of regular schoolwork, the kids tell me about their school day,” he said. “One of my kids tells me about his girl troubles.” Tannenbaum said he has bonded with the children through tutoring.
Fellow Woodson senior Mariela Mannion, 18, who is vice president of the National Honor Society, also volunteers on weekends. GIVE is a quick and fun way for seniors to complete service hour requirements to graduate, usually about 10 to 15 hours, she said.
“It really teaches me patience. I forgot what it’s like to be that age and not really get” lessons, Mannion said, adding a lot of the children she tutors have not had the same economic advantages she has or the push from parents to put school first. “I would definitely recommend it because it’s really flexible and you really get to know the students.”
Learn more about GIVE at www.giveyouth.org.