Arizona Republic
November 30, 2006

Author: Brian Indrelunas, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

Vanessa Bush vies for the attention of a group of schoolchildren Tuesday afternoon so she can explain the rules of a game she's created.

"Each of you will roll a die," Bush tells the students. "The first one to yell out the product of the numbers ... gets to hop as many squares as the dice add up to."

But Bush isn't a math teacher. She is one of 11 Arizona State University students who volunteer twice a week to tutor children from Mesa's Eisenhower Elementary School at the nearby Salvation Army center.

The three groups have worked together since 1999 to provide extra help to students after school.

"It's kind of a neat system that we've developed over the years," said Major Brian Jones, who heads the Mesa Citadel Corps of the Salvation Army.

After arriving and having a snack, students are divided into groups and spend half their time playing a group game. They spend the rest of the afternoon getting one-on-one attention from an ASU student tutor.

"Hopefully, they don't even realize they're learning," said Deborah Ball, the service-learning director at ASU's Tempe campus.

During individual tutoring sessions, students spend time reading, writing, working on their homework and doing another activity.

Fifth-grader Janet Garcia is working with her tutor on a story about a princess who likes to go to school but has had to stay home to work around the house.

She said the princess would eventually go to school in her story, which is a work in progress.

"I haven't figured that out yet," she said.

But even though Janet's tale is still developing, she said she's begun to improve her writing skills.

"I always liked to capitalize my letters, and I'm stopping doing that," she said.

Janet said she's also been learning to multiply and divide faster.

"I've been getting better grades," she said.

Ball said the ASU student tutors are also learning from the tutoring program. They receive course credit for their work, which includes writing essays, discussing them with classmates and drawing up individual lesson plans for each of the two students they tutor.

Stephanie Pecchia, a psychology senior, said she joined the program because a scholarship required her to do volunteer work.

"It takes a lot of patience, but it definitely pays off," she said.

On Tuesday, Pecchia had a student play with finger paint to learn about primary and secondary colors. And she said she once assigned numbers to the colored dots of the game of Twister to encourage a student to complete math problems mentally.

"Because your hands are on the floor, you can't use your fingers to count it out," she said.

Like Pecchia, Ball said a majority of the tutors are majoring in a field other than education.

Senior Brent Ulrich said his Spanish coursework has been useful since he's working with a student who is more fluent in Spanish than English.

"A majority of the time, I'm actually speaking to him in Spanish," Ulrich said.

Ulrich, who will graduate next month, said he was looking for something to do outside the classroom in his last semester at ASU.

"You're helping these kids, and you can actually see this," he said. "Any other class you go to, they just lecture at you. Here you get to see the results of your work."

Teachers at Eisenhower are also seeing the results, both academically and socially, said Assistant Principal Yvonne Colland, who has 12 to 15 students on the program's waiting list.

"Usually I hear, 'Do you have any more openings?' " she said.

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