By TINA ANDERSON
These days, when so many people are focused on themselves and their problems, it is wonderful to find a group reaching out to help those around them. One such group has found that in helping others, they themselves are the ones receiving the greatest blessing; a blessing of friendship and love. College Hills Church of Christ, on Leeville Pike, has conducted a tutoring program for the children of the Hispanic community for six years. When many of the tutors joined the program they did so wanting to be a blessing to the students they serve. What they have found is that their lives are also being enriched. Carol Locke, the Children’s Coordinator at the church, sums it up when she states “I didn’t know (the tutoring program) would change my life so.”
The program grew out of the church’s desire to utilize its new building to help others. Their need to reach out and form connections with the immediate surrounding community led them to seek a partnership with Byars Dowdy Elementary, the closest school to their location. When they contacted Stan Blades, the principal at the time, with the question of where they might serve the school’s students and families best, he suggested working with the English Language Learner (ELL) students. Due to the language barrier in the home, these students are not able to obtain needed help from parents with homework and school projects. Cindy Spickard, one of the program’s leaders and a teacher with Lebanon Special School District, began working with the ELL teachers to identify the students in greatest need. Thus the tutoring program began by taking as many students as they had committed tutors.
On the day that I visited the program, I was amazed to see how happy these students were to be performing more schoolwork. I think of my own children who grumble at the mere mention of getting the books out for homework, but these students are faced with a totally different situation. Just think of the times you have looked over your child’s work or helped them understand something they just didn’t quite get. Now think of the impossibility of that same situation if everything was in Russian. This is what these children and their families face. Their parents do not speak English and are thus not able to help them. This is the role the tutors are fulfilling in their student’s lives, and the parents are very grateful for the help their children are receiving.
The students in the program range from first through eighth grade. The program has worked very hard to continue to serve these students, who began at Byars Dowdy, even when they move within the Lebanon Special School District system. These students now attend four of the five system schools, so their transportation has had to adapt. Many still ride the church bus from their school while others ride with tutors who are employed at the school they attend.
Once they arrive at the church they are served a nutritious snack and allowed a few minutes to chat about their day with friends. During this time there are puzzles for students to work, two computers for their use and a wide area for them to spread out. As the tutors arrive, they are paired with their student and find a quiet place to work. As Ms. Spickard states, “These students need one-on-one help. We would love to add more students, but can only do so if we have a committed tutor for each additional student.”
The program’s greatest growth has been in the depth of the developing relationships. These children have ceased to be students in their tutor’s eyes and are now an extension of their family. Various students spend time with the tutors and their families enjoying dinner, playing games, or even learning to follow package directions in cooking. Severalof the tutors make a special effort to coordinate a time with the parents when they can come to the student’s home for extra tutoring. While other students visit their tutor’s homes to study and play with their children. When the students are in need of special items for projects many times they come to their tutors. These tutors have not only opened a time in their schedule for these students, but have also opened their hearts to view these students as surrogate children and grandchildren and take special pains to help.
Kevin Owen, the Pulpit Minister states “Our vision is to reflect God’s love and reach out to the community.” This vision is definitely being fulfilled for these students. The program is also constantly looking for ways to bless the families of the students. Carol Locke stated that these families do not want handouts, when they are in need they do not ask for money, they ask if the church knows of anyone needing work done. Members of the church help these families by providingthings such as food boxes for the holidays and during Spring and Fall breaks. Since many of these children rely on the free breakfast and lunch programs at school, the families struggle during these break periods. The church also recently helped the parents celebrate their children by hosting a special recognition luncheon.
As the program has evolved they have tried to go beyond homework help to meet these students’ need for a greater base of knowledge. To help them excel in areas of science and social studies, these students need to have the experiences they can build upon. The program provides these experiences through various field trips. One tutor opened his home to the group for a cookout and then took students on a boat ride. They have ridden the Nashville Star and toured Fort Nashboro. Other outings have included attending a play at TPAC, touring the Nashville Zoo and the Opryland hotel, and even eating out at places like CiCi’s pizza and the food court at Opry Mills. Not only do these outings provide the needed experiences to help students understand the world around them, but they also build that sense of family.
These students’ culture has helped add another dimension to the program. Because their culture feels that at age 14 or 15 these children are adults and should be able to make their own way, graduating high school is not their top priority. As Ms. Spickard states, “These are very bright students.” Volunteers in the program are trying to help the students understand that with the proper education, they do not have to struggle as their parents have. They are constantly talking to the students about the correlation between better jobs and more education, and have partnered with school clubs at both Lebanon High School and Wilson Central to help reinforce these ideals. The students in these clubs interact with the children when they provide special events and parties for holidays. The program has held their Christmas party at Wilson Central for the past two years. Opportunities like these allow the students to see that going to high school and graduating is a real possibility.
Just as with your own children and family, it is a great pleasure to see your loved ones succeed. These tutors take great pleasure in both the small and great successes of these students. As Mr. Owen states, “The tutoring program says something beautiful about the heart of this church.” Whenever we reach out to others in need, whether that need is educational assistance, help fixing a flat tire, or offering support and guidance for someone trying to get back on their feet, we are becoming a little more like Jesus and demonstrating his love for all. How wonderful the world would be if we focused not on the perceived negatives in our own lives, but on the positives we could help create for others.
Contact writer Tina Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, call College Hills Church of Christ at 444-9502.
COLLEGE HILLS TUTORING PROGRAM
They are currently serving 30 students. For each committed tutor they have they can add another student in need. If you would like to help they would love to hear from you. You do not have to be a member of College Hills or speak Spanish. The most important thing is that you love children.