Alex M. Griffing, 13, a Carlynton eighth-grader, left, works on a writing assignment with her tutor, Nyra Schell of Roslyn Farms, who is a volunteer in the "Keys to Success" program, held after school at Crafton United Presbyterian Church.
By Brian David Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Carlynton Junior High School eighth-grader did not want to be at the Keys to Success tutoring program that first day.
"She was not happy to be there," said the Rev. Edward Bowen. "She pretty much refused to speak and kind of shoved everybody away."
Three weeks later, the teenager is engaged, happy, and "a fairly chatty young lady," Dr. Bowen said.
"She formed a connection with one particular adult here," Dr. Bowen said. The tutor learned that the girl loved to write, and is helping her look into how to publish books.
That is the most dramatic positive story to come out of the tutoring program so far, but Dr. Bowen -- pastor of the Crafton United Presbyterian Church, which is co-sponsoring the program with the Carlynton School District -- said many of children involved have seen their attitudes improve along with their grades.
"I think the young people are finding that it's fun," he said. "They're coming for tutoring, but they also get to interact with each other. And some, I think, just enjoy having someone to talk to, an adult who will listen to them."
"We are as much trying to connect them with mentors as we are trying to educate them," Carlynton's director of student services, Lee Myford, said.
The program is for seventh- and eighth- graders, who are making the tough transition from elementary school to the high school, Ms. Myford said. She said there are no restrictions on who may use it, but it is intended more for students who are struggling in some way.
It's offered two days a week at the Crafton church and two days a week in Carnegie, though Ms. Myford said attendance in Carnegie has been disappointing. Children are bused to the sites directly from school, and a Carlynton teacher is on hand as well as the volunteer tutors.
Ms. Myford said she would not be surprised to see attendance rise when grades for the first nine weeks go out next week.
The idea for the tutoring program arose last spring. Dr. Bowen said church members looking for service projects had thought of the schools, and he attended a school board meeting to ask what could be done.
Meanwhile, the junior high teachers had come to Ms. Myford concerned that the pupils needed some extra support.
Carlynton superintendent Mike Panza connected the two, and program came together quickly.
"We did it, really, based on staff concerns," Ms. Myford said. "They said, 'here's a weakness; can you address it?' They really want to see the kids excel."
Ms. Myford said she took the idea to the district's grant committee, and some state grant money was set aside for it.
Ms. Myford said the Crafton church has been terrific. "They even have someone providing baked goods," she said. "They always have a snack out."