Teens bridge the learning gap with a tutoring program

HILTON HEAD ISLAND—Teens from Holy Family Church are spending part of their summer vacation helping kids catch the learning bug.

They are mentors in the new Bridge Program, which helps Spanish-speaking children in kindergarten through fifth grade brush up on their reading and math skills before the new school year.

Leigh Ann Bacevich, a parishioner and catechist at Holy Family, came up with the idea after she learned about academic needs among the church’s Hispanic community. She thought enlisting high school students to tutor the children would help bridge communication gaps between all members of the parish.

She spoke with Nora Bess, director of Spanish ministry, and received approval from Msgr. Joseph F. Hanley, pastor. Bess and Bacevich spread the word about the program, and soon more than 50 children and 18 teen volunteers had signed up for the sessions, which started in June.

First they worked with participants to see what levels they’re in for math and reading. The kids are divided into groups by age, and take part in lessons that include creative games. Bess said the teens use colorful candies like Skittles and M&Ms to help illustrate basic math concepts.

“The kids seem to be thrilled to come each day, and the teenagers are doing a great job connecting with the kids,” Bacevich said. “These teens have jobs and other activities during summer vacation, and they’ve made a real commitment to show up each week.”

Bess has heard from many parents who are delighted with the progress their children have made in just a few weeks, she said.

“It’s nice to see kids having a good time while they are learning, and the interaction is very positive,” Bess said. “The teens really enjoy working with the kids, and you can see the younger kids look up to them.”

The youth say the experience has taught them something too.

“I’m learning to be more patient, because it’s always been kind of hard for me to slow down and take time with things,” said Sam Bacevich, 17. “It’s great to help them with their understanding and see how happy they are when they figure out a new concept.”

Tania Moreno, 17, volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and enjoys seeing her students retain information from earlier classes. She especially likes introducing new skills, such as how to use a calculator and work different types of math problems. Tania said she plans to study nursing, but Bridge has helped her develop a love of teaching and she might also consider it as a career path.

Iveth Vargas, 17, offers tutoring in both reading and math. “I really love helping the little kids with what they’re struggling with,” she said. “I can look back and see how I worked these kinds of problems out in school, and use that to help them work out their problems. It’s great to see kids that are excited to learn.”

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