More than 40 years ago, Central Presbyterian Church began a program called “The Elizabethport Tutorial Program.” From early October until the end of March each year, we have met on Tuesday nights in the church auditorium, for an hour.
Who is there? We bring 30 to 40 grade-schoolers by bus from Elizabethport (a section of the City of Elizabeth, N.J.), and they meet with 50 or 60 tutors from high schools local to Summit. Public high schools in Summit, Chatham, Springfield and New Providence are represented, but also local private schools like Oak Knoll, Kent Place, Morristown-Baird and Pingry.
Because the building of personal relationships between tutor and student is so important to us, each student is assigned a permanent tutor —- the same tutor week after week. Many students have two regular tutors, so that if one tutor is involved in sports or other activities, there always is continuity.
What do we do in our hour together? Sometimes the students bring a homework assignment from their school, which the tutor and student work through together. As the tutor gets to know his or her student, they will see individual areas of academic weakness. One student does not like to read because he doesn’t do it very well. Another student has trouble with math, so some number exercises are offered. Importantly, this teaching and practice occurs through great amounts of talking. If the student has read a story to the tutor, for example, the tutor will ask the student now to tell the story again in his or her own words. Sometimes, the student or the tutor simply talk about things they have been doing in their daily lives.
Why do the students come to Tutorial each week, when they could instead be home watching TV or doing other things? Each child would answer this question a little differently, but for most of them, like most kids, they are happy to be out with their friends on sort of an adventure. As they begin to bond with their particular tutor, that is a draw. A few parents may push their students to go to Tutorial, but most tell us they simply hear the kids saying they do not want to miss the Tuesday night Tutorial session. It may be an exaggeration, but we have been told that some parents have used Tutorial as a “stick,” saying to their child: “If you do not behave, I will not let you go to Tutorial on Tuesday evening!”
How is it that we are blessed with so many dedicated tutors? Each tutor undoubtedly will have his or her own particular reasons, but somewhere on their list is “the personal relationship I have with my student.” They are there every Tuesday because they don’t want to disappoint their student. This is not necessarily what one expects from the typically busy high-schooler. But, over time the student-tutor relationship grows deeper, as they each learn more about each other, and fondness blossoms. We have heard of high-school-age tutors who have satisfied any Community Service requirements their school may have imposed, but the tutor wants to come back for a second or even a third year of tutoring. Some tutors have even described the rewards of their experience as one of our tutors, on their college applications. Some Summit-area parents have encouraged all their kids to serve as tutors —- we have often had brothers and sisters serving at the same time, or in successive years.
What’s the “bottom line?” Why has this program lasted for more than 40 years?When asked, any of the adult program supervisors are sure they have seen some special kinds of personal student/tutor growth occurring, over time. They see the students and tutors learning things about themselves, through the personal relationships fostered by the Tutorial program. For the tutors, it brings home to them how fortunate they are for what they have, and to be sure to use it wisely. For the students, they will see opportunities for their own lives, by just listening to their tutors’ own stories, and hearing of the importance of life focus and hard work on their studies.
The Elizabethport Tutorial Program truly brings different world’s together: High school youth and grade-schoolers; suburban kids and youth from one of New Jersey’s largest urban centers. We believe that all of us are benefiting.