Written by Jessica J. Savage
If your child is struggling or falling behind in school, it may be time to take action. We talked to three local tutoring programs to find out when you need to intervene and what the best course of action is for your student. A few things all our experts agreed on: learning should be fun and rewarding, and there’s no shame in asking for help.
The banter of a courtyard basketball game greets visitors at the Boys & Girls Club of Las Cruces. Once inside, voices and laughter proclaim a beehive of activity. But tucked discreetly in the back, the Learning Center is buzzing with the subdued vibe of a computer lab. Here, the children are studying, reading, and bent over notebooks getting their homework done. While the Boys & Girls Club is well known for the fun and creative activities it offers area youth, it is also one of several local options for tutoring and homework assistance.
During the school year, the Las Cruces club offers an afterschool program called Power Hour. Students spend 30 minutes to an hour completing homework under the supervision of staff and volunteers. “I know that parents really appreciate being able to pick up their child knowing that their homework is done,” says Ashley Echavarria, CEO and executive director of the club. “They get free time to relax, a snack, and time to release some energy from school. After that, we go into Power Hour.”
Members can also take advantage of the computer lab where they spend up to 30 minutes on an educational session on one of 20 computers in the lab. “It’s not just a free-for-all; they’re doing activities,” says Ashley. “It’s very much structured chaos and we give kids freedom of choice. The rule is that they have to be participating in something.”
Upon request of a parent or teacher, a member can receive individual tutoring. This usually happens when a member comes to the club on a consistent basis and the staff gets to know the family. “It’s when those relationships are there that we hear, ‘My kid is failing or falling behind,’ and they feel comfortable asking for help,” Ashley notes.
The club then tries to match the student with a volunteer that has the specific skill set to help. Volunteers are typically students from the College of Education at NMSU or former teachers. “What I love more than anything is when a teacher calls us,” says Ashley. “We want teachers to know that we’re a partner in their education. While we have Power Hour in one area, we normally have a Project Learn activity going on in another. There’s hidden learning in everything we do.”
Boys & Girls Club of Las Cruces
330 W. Las Cruces Ave. • 575-526-1519 • bgclascruces.org
Much more than a standard tutoring program, Learn for a Lifetime is an education center offering tutoring services, a preschool, home school groups, summer camps, and a lending library. Although the center doesn’t cater to any particular type of student, many of the clients have learning disabilities. “Most of our long-term clients have really involved parents that know what’s going on with their kids,” says owner Jodi Starnes, a self-proclaimed dyslexic, with an autistic son herself.
A former kindergarten teacher, Jodi started the center approximately six years ago and found it a convenient way to bring her sensitive home-schooled son to work. She considers the center an alternative to traditional classrooms. “I don’t believe in testing,” Jodi says. “There are kids out there who just don’t test well and secondly, all we’re doing is teaching our kids to retain information long enough to write it down on a test.”
Instead, Jodi is in favor of teaching mastery of basics, like reading and math, and learning that leads to critical thinking. “We very often get older students who have been struggling for a while, and it’s just coming to a head,” she says. “We realize they’ve been struggling for years, but were afraid to say so.”
Clients can be tutored at the center, at school, or at home. Homebound students can be seen for a special low rate. Jodi sets her prices low so it’s affordable for the parents of schools in the neighborhood. Kids can drop by the center on Mondays for Lego Club and Wednesdays for Pokeman Club. It’s also a place where they can do their homework and take advantage of free Wi-Fi or use the printer.
Jodi says the bottom line and the secret to success is ensuring that each child makes that personal connection with the tutor. “You can have the most highly educated person in the world,” she says, “but if there’s a personality conflict your child is not going to learn from them.”
Learn for a Lifetime
820 W. Picacho Ave. • 575-208-6395 • learnforalifetimelc.com
Learning Without Labels
At the Mesilla Valley Education Enhancement Center (MVEEC), tutors work one on one with children, teens, and even some college-age clients. Owner Carol Pouy, an educational diagnostician, evaluates every child, but she doesn’t like labeling them. “I find their strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “In any given year, I find 40 to 70 percent come in with a label and then lose that label while they’re here.”
Issues that could be interfering with a child’s learning include language or phonics problems, eye teaming, and auditory processing problems. While the evaluation leads to a “prescriptive tutoring” program, Carol doesn’t want the center to seem clinical. “We don’t dress as if you’re going into a doctor’s office,” she says. “We want to make this a homey environment, as enjoyable as we can. At the same time, I work the kids hard. Every day that they’re not here, I give them 20 minutes of work to do at home.”
Mastery of math and reading skills is an important component. Methods used in public schools require teachers to move the curriculum along with the end goal of learning the subject by the end of the school year. This results in students forgetting what they learned earlier in the year. “We’re not re-learning,” Carol says. “We’re mastering every time we sit down to work on the problems.”
MVEEC also aims to counteract the negative internal dialogue that develops from having difficult learning experiences. “We set up a situation where they’re right nearly 100 percent of the time,” Carol says. “For every time they heard they were wrong, we want them to hear 19 rights.”
Mesilla Valley Education Enhancement Center
337 N. Alameda Blvd. #5 • 575-636-2222 • mesillavalleyeec.com
Does Your Child Need a Tutor?
- Start with the basics. “We need to see children who are struggling especially with reading,” Jodi Says, “because you can’t do anything else if you can’t read.”
- Primary indicators include failing or falling behind in class, frustration, anxiety at homework time, confidence issues and learning disabilities. “Usually the parent knows from a gut level,” says Carol. “She has a gnawing feeling there’s an issue. I always tell parents to listen to their gut feeling.
- While the Boys & Girls Club does everything they can to help students succeed. Ashley admits that sometimes parents may need to take the extra step. “If he/she needs one-on-one focus, vigorous attention, we just don’t have that here. Explore your options. There are lots of great ones out there.”
- “If you place your child in a small group that charges $10, you’re getting what you paid for,” Carol notes. “Unless that teacher has been around a long time and has a lot of tricks in her bag, she’s not going to know other factors that could be impacting a child’s reading. There’s so much of the population that has to have a specific method of learning and if not, the fall behind and stop learning.”