Every Tuesday afternoon this winter, Foundation Year Program (FYP) student Jenny Lapp has been tutoring grade four student Keanna (Kiki) Kirshhofer at King’s.
“I’ve had to learn how to teach things. Kiki and I teach each other. We’ve become much better friends,” Jenny says about Keanna.
Keanna, who’s nine, beams as she sits next to Jenny in the KTS Lecture Hall. “Jenny teaches me stuff and then I can do it. If I get stuck I think about what Jenny taught me,” she says, pointing to an addition problem on her math sheet the two pals solved together.
Jenny and Keanna met through a partnership between King’s and Saint George’s YouthNet. YouthNet provides free programs to children and youth living in or near Uniacke Square, a public housing neighbourhood in Halifax’s North End. King’s students have been volunteering at YouthNet for several years, but the idea of bringing YouthNet’s participants to King’s for tutoring was hatched just this past fall by third-year Classics student Sarah Griffin. Since it began in January, 20 kids have come to campus after school every Tuesday afternoon to work with a King’s student.
“We paired them one-on-one because we want them both (tutor and youth) to have someone they look forward to seeing…One of the main visions we had is that it would be about friendship. We were hoping a barrier could be broken between ‘ivory tower’ academics and North End kids and I think that’s happened,” Sarah says.
In addition to the 20 King’s students who volunteer every week, there’s an additional pool of about 20 King’s students on a stand-by list. Many of the regulars, Sarah says, now want to get more involved in volunteerism through YouthNet and have been disappointed when bad weather has cancelled their weekly tutoring sessions.
Shannon Faires is a third-year Contemporary Studies student at King’s. She tutors grade three student Keelan Carvery, who’s eight.
“It’s something I like to do. I like helping out,” Shannon says. “He (Keelan) is fun to talk to and definitely good at his equations.”
After working together for about 45 minutes, the children and their tutors go to Prince Hall where the Chartwells team who runs dining services treats them to ice cream cones. “I learn about math. Sometimes it’s hard. I like the ice cream,” Keelan says of his Tuesday time at King’s.
Alumna Rozzi Curran, BA(Hons)’16, is the executive director at YouthNet. She was sold on the tutoring idea when Sarah proposed it with Chaplain Father Dr. Gary Thorne. King’s President William Lahey was an early supporter and made the room available to the group.
“Having them (the youth) at King’s is really special. It makes them excited about being here. It’s more about mentorship and less about work—though that’s important, too,” Rozzi says. She works with the teachers and principal at the children’s school, Joseph Howe Elementary, to determine what work the children bring with them. “Honestly, it’s exceeded expectation. I thought the students would be tired after school but they look forward to it every week. They really like, and have gotten to know, their tutors. And it’s really special for me to bring them to King’s because it’s where I went to school.”
For Jenny Lapp, it’s a welcome break from the routine of FYP. “I have no classes on Tuesdays so it’s good. It makes me get out of my room. In FYP it’s easy to get caught up in your own head. You can only talk to your classmates and teachers. It’s good to break out of that.”
The tutoring program will wrap up next month but Sarah and Rozzi plan to hold it again next year and beyond.
“I’m hoping the program surpasses the length of time any one student spends at King’s,” Sarah says. “Perhaps, down the road, with the continued success of this partnership, some of these same children might show an interest in coming to a place like King’s for university.”