Richard Waller’s tutoring began during his ninth-grade year at Sylmar High School.
With the help of CSUN students through the Teacher-Tutor-Student Collaborative project, he is now graduating with his 2006 class.
“It would take me longer without a tutor,” Waller said. “I didn’t get it. (Tutors) were a lot of help, (and it) took time to explain (things) to us.”
He said there were times he would not understand the lecture and tutors made sure he did.
This year, Sylmar High School will be graduating the largest class ever with approximately 861 students, said Warren Furumoto, director of the CSUN Center for Academic Preparedness. Last year, a record 737 students graduated, the highest number up to that time, Furumoto said, but this year the number has increased.
Sylmar High reduced its drop out rate from 45 percent to 15 percent in five years (1999-2005), according to a handout provided by the CSU Northridge Center for Academic Preparedness.
The CSUN center won a $1.8 million federal grant that initiated the program in 1999.
The Teacher-Tutor-Student Collaborative project is a partnership between the federal government’s GEAR UP program and CSUN’s Center for Academic Preparedness.
The programs are aimed to increase the percentage of high school students graduating by offering tutors the opportunity to work in the classrooms at Sylmar High and Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar.
The GEAR UP program will end this year at Sylmar High due to lack of funds and will petition the LAUSD School Board to allocate funds for the program.
The project started six years ago at Olive Vista Middle School with the focus on students from the seventh and eight grades and to continue tutoring those students through their high school years at Sylmar High School, Furumoto said. The project offers about 50 tutors from CSUN and Mission College.
The majority of the tutors graduated from Sylmar High School, Furumoto said.
“We stress to get students to go back to their high school and they tend to be very good tutors,” he said.
Waller said tutors make a difference in the classroom. Although he is happy to graduate, he is more excited to see most of his friends graduating.
“It’s good to see a lot of my friends … (graduating) and going to college,” Waller said. “A lot of seniors that I know are doing really good. They might not be an ‘A’ student, but they are graduating.”
“It’s better for the students to get taught by the tutors than the teachers,” Waller said. “It’s really good to have tutors in the class.”
Waller said there are times when students feel more comfortable asking a tutor a question than asking the teacher for help.
As a result of the program, Sylmar High students undergo one-on-one tutoring with the college students at least two to three times weekly and two to three college tutors are assigned per designated classroom.
During the training process students “try to make it as real as possible ? some students do role playing,” Furumoto said. “We do classroom management and learn how to handle different situations in assisting the students.”
Furumoto said he has been working with the tutoring program for a long time ago, and said he believes the best tutoring programs work inside the classrooms rather than in after school programs or tutoring during the weekends.
Besides helping the students with their school work, the tutors also try to inspire the students to consider higher education, Furumoto said.
“A lot of the students don’t know anybody who goes to college,” he said. “The success of our program is really that high school students see that someone from the community can really help.”
Octavio Medina, senior liberal studies major, said he started working with the project in 2000, after graduating from Sylmar in 1999 and enrolling at CSUN.
“We have to encourage them to think on their own and they’ll be better learners,” Medina said.
The tutors use a technique called Socratic questioning, said Medina, in which students ask questions and tutors reply with a question, instead of giving an answer.
This strategy of teaching causes students to think and develop ideas themselves, Furumoto said.
Furumoto said the tutors work with all the studentsr walking around the classroom.
Usually in regular class sessions the teacher would break the class into groups and “tutors facilitate the discussion (to) students,” Furumoto said.
“Our goal is to bring those students to grade level reading, so that they would be reading at (their) grade level,” Furumoto said.
Leodegaria Lopez, graduate student, started tutoring seventh- and eight-grade students at Olive Vista Middle School.
“They really need a lot of help. A lot of the students are English learners,” Lopez said, adding that there are circumstances when tutors have to explain problems in Spanish.
The tutors and teachers work have a good relation, she said.
“(Teachers) really take us in consideration. They ask us our opinion, how the class is going and how they can make it better,” Lopez said.
Jose Sandoval, undeclared freshman, graduated from Sylmar High in 2005, and now is working as a tutor at the school.
He said having a tutor allows students to realize higher education is possible.
“They asked me about college, if they can afford it,” Sandoval said. “Most come from low-income families.”
Juan Aguilera, a graduate student at CSUN and a math teacher at Sylmar High School, said the tutors are very helpful to the students.
“When the tutors aren’t here,” Aguilera said, “the students ask for them.”