PLACENTIA — When Lois Monroe put together a tutoring program at her son's school three years ago, her goals were modest. "I was in my son's classroom when he was in second grade, and I noticed that there were some children who could benefit from one-on-one help," she recalls.
So Monroe began recruiting volunteer tutors. She called her program Time for Kids, and by the end of that first year, 19 people agreed to help. By the end of the second year, that number had grown to 42. As this school year draws to an end, Time for Kids has more than 100 tutors in four schools in the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District.
And Lois Monroe is very busy.
It is not uncommon for Monroe to spend more than 20 hours a week running the tutoring program. Without her, principal Phil Hergenreder of Brookhaven Elementary School says, Time For Kids would not be possible.
"It takes someone like Lois to keep it together," he says. "It's a lot of hours of work to keep it alive."
The program, which began at Brookhaven using supplies purchased from a $200 PTA fund, operates on a shoestring. "In reality what it costs is people's time and energy," Hergenreder says.
Monroe estimates that this year's budget was about $175, which covers the costs of flyers and other materials. "It's not expensive to run," she says. "The time commitment is the major part of it."
In addition to Monroe, others who are willing to give time to the program include college students, senior citizens, business executives and parents. Dina McIntosh, a tutor on staff at Cal State Fullerton, recently spent the morning helping a third-grader with his reading. And in a sixth-grade classroom, David Stapel, a technical writer from Anaheim, took time from work to help a boy with math.
"My tutors, a lot of them are involved in other activities," Monroe says. "They all have something else to do." But no matter how busy they are, volunteers such as McIntosh and Stapel manage to find one hour a week to devote to the program, Monroe points out.
Initially, Monroe says, she had planned to concentrate on recruiting senior citizens. "I thought they'd be good volunteers, but that was difficult because so many of them travel (during the school year and can't be relied on)," she says.
The first year, Monroe had to rethink her strategy and began circulating flyers, talking to community groups and businesses, visiting libraries, calling area universities and colleges. "People are out there," she says. "They really are. It's just getting the word out about the program."
But spreading the word takes time.
Monroe and co-chairwoman Becky Norman spend countless hours on the phone. Once tutors are signed up, they must be screened, then trained by teachers at the school where they'll work. Now that the tutoring program has spread to three other campuses, Monroe serves as volunteer coordinator for all four schools. "When we have enough tutors at Brookhaven, we send them to other schools," she says.
Tutors get to choose their subjects, and Monroe says that children need help with everything from reading and math to physical education. "We can always use more math tutors,' she says. "It's a shame, but people are afraid of math--and we are talking elementary school math."
Each week a volunteer meets with a child or a small group of children during school hours. In order for children to take part in the program, a parent must first sign a permission form permitting the child to enroll.
As for the children, Monroe says that some of them have fallen behind in a particular subject. Others, she says, just need extra attention. "Some kids may not be able to understand concepts," she says. "Or if a child is having trouble with multiplication, the tutor works with multiplication drills. And part of our program is special friends. If a child just needs someone to talk to, they talk together. "
Last year at Brookhaven, a volunteer worked with a fourth-grade girl whose mother had recently died. "The girl was acting out and needed someone to pay attention to her," Monroe says.
Volunteer tutor Mindy Glatstein says that often just spending extra time with a child can help. "The little girl I work with just needs attention," says Glatstein, a former reading specialist and high school teacher. "The great thing about Brookhaven is that there is always someone who has time for you. People care what happens to the kids, and that's why the kids do so well."
Principal Hergenreder says he has seen a big improvement in participants. "Often these kids are at-risk," he says. "If they feel someone out there cares, it affects their self-esteem."
Hergenreder says he has seen such children improve in individual subjects and says that, overall, their work habits improve.
Monroe says teachers love the program and that it could not exist without their support. "The teachers let us know what child needs help and what the child needs to work on," she says. "And tutors can go to teachers and talk to them on an individual basis."
In fact, Monroe says that her best advice to parents who want to start a similar program in their school is: Start with the teachers. "Go and ask them about the program," she says. "They have to commit time and energy to make sure it keeps going. And they have to be able to experiment a little bit and try different avenues."
Teachers such as Beth Effenberger at Brookhaven School are sold on the idea of volunteer tutors. "I think it is outstanding," says Effenberger, who teaches fourth grade. "We have had a decline in the number of aides working in the classroom and have had to rely a lot on volunteer people."
Thanks to Monroe, the program is run in a professional manner, Effenberger says. "They are very on target."
Perhaps most important, Effenberger says, is the fact that tutors are dependable. "They always come. There haven't been any no-shows."