Student tutors gain experience

By Zak Quiggle

Several NIU students are up to the exciting challenge of teaching young children a new language.

This is because of a program called ROAR (Reaching Out Through Art and Reading), which works with elementary school children to help them learn English.

Each week 35 elementary education majors go to a DeKalb or Aurora elementary school to work with students. First, they read a storybook to the children, who then learn target vocabulary words from the book by playing a game. The students also work on art projects dealing with the words, mostly done with paint or clay.

“It’s a really great hands-on situation for these tutors to learn in,” said Chris Carger, founder of the program and an associate professor of literacy education. “A lot of programs just send kids into the classrooms with no training. But they need training to prepare for the classes. It’s a lot of work and lesson planning.”

The program works closely with the elementary schools and the teachers are very supportive of the program, Carger said.

The ROAR program is accessible through either LTRE 231 or LTRE 431. Participating in the program is part of the class. The students meet once a week for a two-hour seminar and go to their assigned elementary school another day of the week. The tutors do not have to be bilingual.

“I am taking this class for the third time now, as an independent study, because I enjoy it so much,” said Ashley Calandria, a sophomore pre-early childhood education major. “Even though it requires a lot of effort outside of the classroom, it’s worth it.”

The students involved in ROAR find it to be a very useful tool when concentrating on their major.

“It can be sort of a pain waking up early on Friday mornings to go to the classroom, but it’s well worth it,” said junior pre-elementary education major John Valentino. “At other schools, you have to just observe teaching. In this class, you get to actually get in the class and read. Everyone really enjoys it.”

Calandria said she found the experience useful in helping her decide whether she wanted to pursue teaching as her major.

“The program is a 10 out of 10. The experience with lesson planning is great,” said senior pre-elementary education major Vanessa Mendoza. “I work on my lesson plan for probably four hours a week. It takes a lot of creativity.”

The ROAR tutors work with mostly Spanish-speaking students, some of whom have recently come from Mexico. The tutors, however, also work with Asian and Polish students.

“Statistics say there is a tremendous growth in Hispanic population in areas like DeKalb and other suburban areas,” Carger said. “We need to be able to work with them. We try to teach them in English as much as we can, but we also use their language in order to show them that there’s nothing wrong with it.”

According to the student tutors, one of the great things about working in the classroom is getting to know young students and becoming a role model.

“I really like the program because it lets these young, sometimes underprivileged kids meet college students,” Calandria said. “They get to see what they can do some day.”

ROAR is funded by the department of literacy education, the department of teaching and learning and the department of educational partnership. Funding was awarded to ROAR by the Altursa Society of DeKalb-Sycamore and the DeKalb Education Foundation for the purchase of multicultural children’s books and art supplies.

“I want our undergraduates to go out and work with bilingual children,” Carger said. “We want to get rid of stereotypes or thoughts that not knowing English is a disability. These tutors are getting a good idea of what it’s really like to work with these kids.”