Tutoring Program Links Whitman, Walla Walla Students

Whitman students need jobs; the Walla Walla School District needs support. The America Reads America Counts (ARAC) program forms a partnership between the college and the school district that simultaneously fulfills the needs of both institutions. ARAC employs 30 Whitman students to work toward enhancing reading and math skills in classrooms throughout Walla Walla.

Committing the entire school year to the program, each ARAC intern works six to eight hours per week in schools throughout Walla Walla. Although there are interns at Pioneer Middle School, Lincoln High School and Desales Catholic High School, most are distributed throughout Walla Walla’s six elementary schools. While the nature of work varies, ARAC interns work primarily with students in small groups or one-on-one settings.

“Whenever you can provide a smaller student-to-adult ratio, the student will always benefit, especially when the adult is a very capable and caring individual that is invested in building relationships with people,” said ARAC Site Coordinator for Blue Ridge Elementary School Tina Holbrook.

Photo by Anna Von Clemm

ARAC provides support that benefits students individually and enhances the classroom experience as a whole. Interns are placed in classrooms where teachers would not otherwise have access to this kind of support from paraeducators or parent volunteers.

“If our interns were not in that class at that time, that small group review, fundamentals, underscoring, encouragement, affirmation, friendship, all that happens, would not be available to those students … We’re truly meeting a district need,” said Outreach Coordinator for the Student Engagement Center Susan Prudente.

In addition to serving the needs of the Walla Walla Public School District, the program meets the needs of Whitman students.

“It’s a win-win situation. It’s a win for Whitman. It’s a win for the school district. And it’s a win for the students because they get paid. And hopefully, what we’re hoping is that as they get into it, that maybe they will look at teaching or somehow contributing [to education] in the future once they graduate,” said Director of Financial Aid Services Marilyn Ponti.

Students at Sharpstein Elementary School hard at work.

Photo by Anna Von Clemm

Even though the program has been successful in simultaneously providing support for the school district and professional development experiences for Whitman students, funding constrains the program from growing at this time. There have been as many as 60 ARAC interns in the past, but decreases in federal and state monies allocated to the college for work study positions, funds upon which ARAC is contingent upon, have kept the program stagnant at 30 interns for the past several years. 

IMG_3007-4“The amount of monies that Whitman College is receiving for work study monies has decreased significantly, but we’re trying to keep [the amount that goes to ARAC] level so that we can continue to keep the program and keep the students in the school and make it a program that is a win-win situation,” said Ponti.

Because of decreased funding from the federal and state government, the Office of Financial Aid has leveled funds for the ARAC program despite the great interest from students and need from the school district.

“We’re at the max [amount of interns]. I’ve taken us to the max of what I’ve been given because we have interested students, capable students, and the district need is there … The district would welcome more America Reads America Counts interns if we [were allocated more work-study monies to] fund them,” said Prudente.

Although funding prevents ARAC from increasing the amount of students that it can employ, the program continues to seek ways to expand the professional development opportunities for its interns. Interns undergo a formal hiring process and are trained by Whitman alumni who are now professional educators in the Walla Walla community.

“[Interns] receive direct experience that is so applicable for the next job they would be seeking. For their next interview they’ll have real stories and real challenges and successes to talk about — real scenarios. It’s an extremely enriching experience for whatever they do post-America Reads America Counts,” said Prudente.

Senior Environmental Studies-Biology major Marie O’Grady applied to ARAC on a whim as a first-year but has continued to serve as an ARAC intern into her senior year. Although she doesn’t see herself necessarily working as a teacher in the future, her experience as an ARAC intern has influenced her post-graduate plans.

“I’ve decided that it would be cool to do community outreach work with some sort of environmental organization. [Because of] my work with America Reads America Counts, I think I would really enjoy teaching kids about environmental issues,” she said.




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