Homework Helpers

Math homework stumped one local Fredericksburg second-grader.

She was puzzled by the number sequence problem in the evening assignment, and the more she tried to work the problem, the more exasperated she became. UMW senior Ciara Norquist sensed her frustration and convinced her to take a break from her studies. They built charts and focused on finding patterns. Within minutes, the student returned to her homework and completed it with ease

“For the kids, it’s like having a second teacher. The one-on-one time is important,” said Norquist, who is among 31 UMW tutors who have volunteered with the Hazel Hill Homework Club.

The club, which started fall semester, began as a way to help UMW students fulfill their service-learning requirement in an “Elementary Social Studies Methods” class, taught by John Broome, assistant professor in the College of Education. Students in Broome’s class are required to complete 10 hours of service and many opt to volunteer as tutors for the Hazel Hill Homework Club.

“Service learning is taking community service and combining it with the classroom curriculum with a component of critical reflection to make sense of experiences, to enrich learning, to teach civic responsibility and really strengthen the community,” Broome said.

As many as 36 children, who range from first to eighth grade, attend the tutoring sessions after school, and are all residents of the  Hazel Hill Apartments. The Fredericksburg apartment complex is home to economically challenged families from a variety of diverse backgrounds.

An average tutoring session starts with snacks and socialization. The elementary and middle school students then go to their assigned tables to work on their homework. UMW students give specialized help to the younger students, and then the day usually ends with time left for guided reading.

“As the teachers, it gives us a chance to apply the skills we learn in class,” Norquist explained.

She is part of UMW’s five-year elementary master’s program in education, and hopes to teach third grade once she earns her degree. Though she has completed the class requirement, she plans to continue tutoring through December and into the spring semester if her schedule allows.

“I keep tutoring because I feel like my commitment is to the students at Hazel Hill, not to the 10 hours I needed for a class,” Norquist said.

Norquist is a student leader in the club’s development and launch, along with Kelsie LaSalata, a senior psychology major. She deals with the scheduling and overall organizing. LaSalata is in charge of organizing, fundraising and outreach.

LaSalata currently is working on a textbook drop to help expand the Hazel Hill library. UMW students and faculty can donate textbooks that will then be sold to pay for more children’s books.

“I hope that we can give the kids at homework club an eclectic bunch of exciting, new books,” LaSalata said. “They have become used to the ones they have now.”

Ragan Bolick, Hazel Hill’s residential service coordinator, says the students thrive from their extra assistance.

“The tutors help the kids be the best they can be, and motivate them to achieve more,” she said.

Norquist and LaSalata are continually looking for ways of improving the overall structure of the club, though the progress they have made so far is already valued.

“UMW has really embraced the whole community here,” Bolick said, “and I’m thankful for that.”

For more information on becoming a tutor or making a donation, please visit http://hazelhill.umwblogs.org/.

By Charlotte Rodina ‘13