Volunteer tutoring programs at two Chicago churches are helping pave a new direction in urban education. Working with children from a low-cost housing area, some volunteers representing a broad cross section of the city help the young people with the basic skills of reading.
Tutors and tutees gather one evening a week at Fourth Presbyterian Church and meet three evenings per week at LaSalle Street Church. Both institutions are located on Chicago's North Side, not far out of the city's downtown "Loop."
"We're interested in good education," says the Rev. James M. Fleming of Fourth Presbyterian. "We want to help children from less-than-privileged areas learn how to read so they can be more productive."
The tutors do whatever they can to help children learn, drawing from their individual backgrounds. Some tutors are teachers in the Chicago and suburban schools. Others have no teacher training but simply like to work with children and are successful in helping them learn things that are important in reading. A tutor might help a child learn a new game that will develop coordination vital to reading. Another might listen to a story the child reads. Someone else might help the child understand his or her homework.
At both churches, special volunteer helpers are available to assist tutors and children [word illigible] selecting appropriate games, or in finding [word illigible] materials that reflect the interests and maturity of an individual child.
"Here, education is important," says Dorothy Weidenfeld, the Presbyterian program's salaried coordinator, "but so are the one-on-one relationship among people. You'll find people of all kinds working together -- people making commitments to people."
The tutoring programs at Fourth Presbyterian and LaSalle Street Churches have two characteristics that make them stand out, according to Greg Darnieder, coordinator of the LaSalle Street Center: a clearly defined purpose and an organization that helps achieve that purpose. The goal is to help children learn how to read by meand of one-to-one help from tutors. And the program is organized so that volunteers can get the help they need when they need it. New volunteers are grouped together and given whatever assistance they need so they can succeed.
And the tutors continually improve their own effectiveness by means of lively workshops and informal rap sessions.
Looking across the sea of faces at long tables in either church, children from 6 to 14 can be seen working busily with tutors who range in age from college-level to senior citizen. There is an obvious spirit of enthusiasm and teamwork.
"The tutoring programs such as these in Chicago offer a new direction in education," says teacher-historian Richard G. Huntington. "The simple truth is, in senior high school I teach reading, writing, and spelling, and I shouldn't have to."
"Today's educational structure needs bolstering in the teaching of reading skills," Huntington says, "and volunteer programs hold great promise."