UNCG Campus Weekly

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Judy Smith invites staff and faculty to help tutor Burmese refugee school kids on campus

Every Thursday evening over the last academic year, more than a dozen kids would come to UNCG’s Campus Ministries Building. UNCG students volunteered to tutor them. The kids are largely from Burmese refugee families.

Judy Smith, director of the Office of Space Management and 2010-11 Service Committee co-chair for Staff Senate, is the campus point person for this service initiative.

At the September Staff Senate meeting, she shared information about this tutoring opportunity.

This year, they anticipate 25 school kids ages 8-12 will participate. Volunteers are needed each week for this growing program, and additional volunteers are needed for those weeks when UNCG students are away on break.

Every Thursday night, the young students will come in to the Associated Campus Ministries building beginning at 6:30 p.m.

CW asked her about how the program came about. She and members of her small church have become involved in helping Burmese refugee families in Greensboro, she explains.

“They have been burned out of villages. Have avoided military police, until they could cross the border into Thailand. Most of the families were in refugee camps for up to 10 years.”

How did she get involved?

Her husband has family in Thailand. She knew the needs that refugees may have. And a friend at Greensboro’s Newcomers School told her and a few others at the church about one family that had needs. In the past couple of years, that assistance has snowballed – and includes the tutoring.

Students first became involved with tutoring assistance when Evan Blackerby from the Baptist Campus Ministry approached the church looking for volunteer opportunities for his student members. Later, members of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, a pre-professional association for Communication Sciences and Disorders majors, provided additional assistance. This past year, along with continued support from the Campus Ministries, members of UNCG’s Golden Key Club have provided assistance for the tutoring sessions.

Senior Chelsea Taylor, an elementary education major, says she likes “applying the skills that I am learning in my courses and seeing the growth the students have made in their reading and math over the year.”

Senior Amanda Headley, a speech pathology and audiology major, says reading with young students on Thursdays is the highlight of her week. “The excitement in their eyes when they finish an entire story book is priceless.” Sophomore Sarah Price adds she loves seeing how much progress they’ve made in their math skills this year.

About 25 school children have participated, Smith says. Last semester, there were about 15 on any given Thursday. The tutors help the young students with homework assignments, or with reading. They may work with letters or phonetics. Learning games can be a fun activity.

They are in families where the adults had limited formal education, Smith explains. That fact, along with limited or no English skills, makes even small tasks difficult for the families. Things others may take for granted – such as knowing the difference between junk mail and important letters, how to make a doctor’s appointment, what insurance is – presents a challenge in a new culture.

There has been an extremely good response from the UNCG community, she says.

Last spring break, a handful of staff members filled in as volunteers while the students were away.

Lou Harrell (Contracts & Grants) and her husband David Franklin were some. She recounts working with first graders learning to read, playing phonics games and working to learn the values of coins. “They were good at that!” she says. Meanwhile, Franklin tutored a sixth grader in math and reading comprehension and spoke some French and Swahili with a high school student from the eastern Congo. Konnie Hauser (Housing & Residence Life) and daughter Bethany Hauser King (Admissions Office) worked with a brother and sister doing art assignments.

Smith says staff and faculty who’d like to volunteer have an opportunity now that the children’s school year has begun. “I was amazed at the amount of interest expressed by the UNCG staff [last spring] and we would like to tap into that again,” she says.

Initially, she says, she simply wanted to reach out to a group of people with extreme needs.

But for her, it has evolved.

“You think you’re going to change others’ lives – but you discover they have changed yours as well.”

See more information.

For additional information, email Judy Smith.

By Mike Harris