Keeping the door open to success

Monitor reporter Marjorie Coeyman knows her way around the education jargon of today: high-stakes testing, social promotion, and so forth. But last week, her off-hours role as tutor and mentor gave Marjorie a strong reminder of the very individual situations that lie behind - and can be deeply affected by - those policies.

The sixth-grader she tutors did poorly enough for most of this year that he is slated to repeat the grade. That's the policy of his parochial school, to which he switched from a troubled public school. He drifted at first, having to learn that, for example, his teachers meant it when they said to hand in homework. Finally, a relative sought help from a tutor.

Since then, all concur, his work has improved noticeably. Marjorie agrees that if he can't do the work, he shouldn't be pushed ahead. But she is also sure that with continuing effort over the summer, he could be ready for seventh grade. What will happen, she wonders, if a kid who's big and capable enough is forced to sit through the same material with younger children, with no special attention?

Inflexible policies - or those that don't provide one-on-one help - can be the undoing of students who might otherwise flourish.

Marjorie also met last week with another of the students she mentors. This young woman, who had dragged herself through her inner-city high school, is thriving at community college. Over dinner, she happily quoted her professors and discussed current events. She has career plans - and she's getting good grades.

"It's a reminder that keeping doors open at all levels is a strength of the American system," Marjorie says, "and an important idea." E-mail

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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