December 12, 2013

With a little help: Church, school partner for tutoring

Church, school partner for elementary tutoring

by Sarah Einselen Pharos-Tribune

---- — A second-grade boy slowly etched a number onto his worksheet with his pencil.

"You have an eight that goes here ... a zero that goes here," coached his tutor, 17-year-old Caleb Sedam. The pair were catching up on math homework at an after-school tutoring program started this year at Franklin Elementary School.

Kids Club, a program for first- through third-graders at Franklin, launched this fall under the auspices of Webb Chapel United Methodist Church and its pastor, the Rev. Bill Bergstrom. Some 40 to 45 children stay after school on Wednesdays for the faith-infused program that runs from about 3 p.m. until after 4 p.m.

The church had operated a similar after-school program at the Salvation Army off and on during two previous school years, according to Bergstrom, but few children attended.

"I thought, well, if we can't get children to come to us," he said, "we'll go to them."

The church, which averages about 85 people on a Sunday morning, approached school administrators to ask to use the space for an after-school tutoring and Christian education program. The church supplies the volunteers, supplies and snacks. The school sent out and collected children's permission slips and provides the space each week.

"We wanted to reach out and serve the community in some way," Bergstrom said.

Administrators welcomed the idea, volunteer Marla Sellers said. Now in her 34th year of teaching, the second-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary was the church's first connection to the school. About 10 of her students also attend Kids Club, she said, where she feels freer to answer their questions related to morals and Christianity.

That's one of the things she loves about the program.

"During the school day I can't teach about the Lord," Sellers said. "After school, I can."

On Wednesday, the children started with a snack at about 3 p.m., then gathered in the Pit — a large seating area couched in the curve of a large ramp leading to the school's second story — for about 10 minutes of story time. Sellers and other volunteers take turns each week reading stories or leading singing. After story time, the children split into small classes, divided by grades, for tutoring.

Children work on whatever homework they've been assigned, Sellers said, or may practice vocabulary and spelling words or math facts. She coordinates with other elementary teachers at the school so she and other volunteers are prepared to gives students more practice with what they're working on during the school day.

Some students struggle in school and "desperately" need the extra help they can get at Kids Club, Sellers said. Others, however, are already successful in school. In the tutoring group she supervises, she often pairs successful students with struggling ones, which she said has strengthened both groups of students.

Older students began helping out this year, too. Anywhere from three to seven or eight Logansport High School students pop in on Wednesdays to help the elementary students study.

Nick Howell, 16, said he doesn't think he'll pursue a career in teaching, but he got involved in Kids Club in September to show his thanks to area residents who've helped his family out over the years.

His 9-year-old sister Bailey Howell was born premature, he explained, and required several surgeries in her infancy. Community members supported the family throughout the ordeal, Nick said.

"She was only able to survive with the help of the community," Nick added. "I feel this is me giving back."

Once 4 p.m. arrives, some children remain in the classrooms to finish up homework while others head back to the cafeteria for games or crafts while they wait for someone to pick them up.

One mother picking up her 8-year-old daughter said the girl, Cateline Frye, enjoys spending time with the volunteers at Kids Club.

"This is kind of her Sunday School," Cateline's mother Nonie Frye said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME