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Mired in Math? Rattled by Reading? Tutors Offer Help

Learning: Educators say it is best to identify problems early in the school year. Many schools and organizations are ready to assist kids.


They are soldiers, of sorts, prepared for battle.

You have bought them new clothes, packed their lunches and equipped them with a cache of supplies. But as your kids head off to school this month, have you considered which strategy to employ should their biggest fight be understanding English or math?

A key countermove, according to educators, is to arm your child with a tutor early on. Finding an academic helping hand may be as simple as calling your child's teacher or counselor, who can explain the types of tutoring services their school offers.

Children who attend schools throughout Ventura County often may arrange to receive help from older, more experienced students or from a teacher during a lunch hour or before or after school. The extra assistance not only may enhance a student's ability to complete homework and grasp concepts, but it may translate into better grades and improved morale.

The sooner this extra help comes the better. Parents should have an idea by the third week of school whether their child is having trouble, said Richard Simpson, assistant superintendent of instructional services for the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

If parents know their child struggles with a particular subject, for example, and the same tutor who helped last year is still available, then it makes sense to renew the tutor-student relationship within the first two weeks of school, he added.

"Don't wait until April," Simpson said. "Because the longer you wait to intervene the harder it is to recover."

Students enrolled in a Conejo Valley Unified school receive progress reports or are graded eight times a year. Should a problem materialize, someone needs to act, said Simpson, whether it be a teacher, a parent, or the student.

"Asking for help is sometimes the thing that people fail to do," Simpson said.

Of key importance, added Beryle Brinkman, assistant to the office of economic development at Oxnard College, is for teachers and parents to help children get over the stigma attached to being tutored.

"They need to know that just because they're being tutored doesn't mean they're dumb," Brinkman said. "These services are here to enhance their own abilities."

Indeed, tutoring need not be reserved solely for the struggling youngster. A student enrolled in an advanced placement course, for example, may need to be "spot" tutored by a more experienced peer.

"What I tell students is, 'If you're not feeling well go to a doctor. But if you're not doing well [in class], go to a tutor,' " added Ramon Campos, head counselor at Channel Islands High School.

In some cases, according to Campos, students may be too shy to ask for help or may wrongly believe they can work through their problems on their own.

Indeed, Jane Middleton, a supervisor at the SchooLinks Homework Center at the Oak View Library, changed 10-year-old David Coughlin's life last year when she posed a simple question.

"She asked me if I needed help with my homework," said David, a fifth-grader at Oak View Elementary School. "I said 'Yes,' and started coming in every day."

With Middleton's help with math, language, spelling and history homework, David went from being a struggling student two years ago to being able to boast today of completing 100% of his assignments.

"Once kids realize they're getting their work done and they're receiving positive feedback from their teachers, I've found they want to come in," Middleton said.

After deciding to seek help, the next step is deciding where or to whom to turn. There is an array of programs and services throughout Ventura County which provide tutoring or homework assistance.

*The Boys & Girls clubs of Ventura County offer after school and evening tutoring, homework assistance and other services. There are six clubs which serve children in Ventura, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Camarillo, Moorpark, Santa Paula, Port Hueneme, Fillmore and Piru.

*The SchooLinks Homework Centers at the Ojai, Meiners Oaks and Oak View libraries have volunteers from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays to help kids with reading and math. They can also help youngsters polish Internet skills or use library reference materials.

*Project Understanding is scheduled to begin offering tutoring today at five locations. Last year the group served 140 needy children in kindergarten through eighth-grade. Children must apply to participate in the program and are usually referred by teachers. Parent requests are also considered. For more information, call 652-1326.

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