Tutors open doors for students

June 10, 2011

Friends of Simon program connects university tutors with kids from Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey

On a hot, seemingly summer day, a rather raucous group of elementary students gathers in a back room at Stride Avenue Community School.

These kids have developed a very serious case of Canucks fever, and when they are not writing "Go, Canucks, go," on their forearms with felt pens, they are scribbling their thoughts about the Friends of Simon program on scraps of paper.

It's the last day before summer for the after-school tutoring club, and the kids are writing things they remembered or liked about the program and reading them aloud to their peers.

Memorable moments include: "when we made pizza," and "when we went to laser tag." Another student wrote: "I want to remember all the leaders for being a nice person and helping people through rough times."

Friends of Simon is an award-winning program that connects SFU student-tutors with kindergarten to Grade 9 students in Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey.

Burnaby resident Monica King is one of two Friends of Simon volunteers overseeing the Stride Avenue group. For the past two years, she's been coming to Stride, twice a week for two hours, to work with kids in grades 4 to 7. The 21-year-old psychology major wants to be a teacher someday, and this program helps her get her feet wet.

"I knew I wanted to work with kids, so I gave it a try," says King. "Oh my gosh, it's exactly what I think it's like for teaching. ... I hope it will prepare me for my teaching career."

For King, the school is not far from home.

"I live close by, too, so most of these kids are actually my neighbours," she says.

King's been helping Grade 7 student Beheshta Yousefi, who clearly enjoys the program.

"I love it 'cuz almost every time I come here, I learn something new. I get better grades now because they help me with my homework and it's fun," says Beheshta.

The two cover a variety of subjects, and before studying, there is a half-hour of "free time" - either in the gym, on the computer, or playing outside.

For Beheshta, it's the last day of the program and the end of her elementary career, as she's off to high school next year.

"I'm sad, but I'll visit here," she says.

The main goal for Friends of Simon, in their words, is to recruit, prepare and assign literacy tutors in the Lower Mainland. The students they focus on helping are newcomers and refugees who need help with literacy skills.

"We were looking to support kids who are at-risk in our community, and those kids are really at risk," said project coordinator Angela Flumerfelt.

Recent immigrant and refugee children may not have had much experience in school at all, she said.

"They are struggling with the language, and they need to learn literacy skills," Flumerfelt said, adding that sometimes their parents can't help because they are also missing those skills.

"That's really a niche we found that needs additional support," Flumerfelt said.

The tutors work within existing after-school and summer programs in small settings. At Stride Avenue, for example, South Burnaby Neighbourhood House runs the after-school program, and Friends of Simon helps by bringing in tutors.

SFU's Faculty of Education trains and supervises the tutors, based on the latest pedagogical trends. The tutors also help by being role models for the kids. SFU isn't the only group involved. The attorney general's ministry, the North Growth Foundation and the United Way of the Lower Mainland are all partners.

Thanks to program sponsors, Friends of Simon can afford to pay the tutors $12 an hour.

"It's helpful for us students because we want to volunteer, but we also need to work," says King.

For more information on Friends of Simon, go to www.educ.sfu.ca/friends. The program is currently recruiting tutors at SFU's Burnaby and Surrey campuses.


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