Tutoring center offers community opportunity

0
60
WEBtutoring2.jpg

Nolan Smith and Nolan Johnson could not be more different. Smith, tall and thin, is musically inclined and good with kids. Johnson, a thickly built gentle giant and Pop Warner football player, is just a kid himself.

But they have both found a home at Momentum Tutoring.

Johnson has been at Momentum for several years now. The soon-to-be ninth grader who takes special education classes at school approached his mom after struggling with his grades and asked for tutoring.

Nolan Smith and Nolan Johnson could not be more different. Smith, tall and thin, is musically inclined and good with kids. Johnson, a thickly built gentle giant and Pop Warner football player, is just a kid himself.

But they have both found a home at Momentum Tutoring.

Johnson has been at Momentum for several years now. The soon-to-be ninth grader who takes special education classes at school approached his mom after struggling with his grades and asked for tutoring.

“This is his first time main-streaming, so he’ll be in no special ed classes,” said Haley Rezendes, Johnson’s tutor, who works with him eight hours a week during the school year and sees him for sessions during the summer as well. “To get him ready for ninth grade, we’ve been working on figurative language and we’ve been doing poetry. I do all his lesson plans so he’s prepped.”

Any freshman has cause to be nervous at the prospect of beginning high school, but Johnson has a lot more on the line than many of his peers.

“This year I’m not going to play football,” said Johnson, who said he hopes, once his grades are up he can try out as a sophomore. “It would have been almost three hours after school. Basically, I would have had to do football instead of tutoring and I picked tutoring. I want high school to be easier.”

Rezendes said she is almost as nervous as Johnson.

“I haven’t tutored high school English before,” said the college sophomore. Rezendes will be starting her second year at University of California, San Diego as a cognitive science major, specializing in language and culture.

“All these kids are what inspired me to pick my major,” said Rezendes. “I started working here when I was 16. I went to West Hills, I started working with them. Michelle and Terri both trained me. I’m very happy with where I ended up and hopefully where I’ll stay for quite a while. I have the best job.”

Momentum started in the Santee Library 16 years ago when former teacher at Rio Seco Elementary School Terri Bozhor decided to take on a few students to tutor during her maternity leave.

“I would see other high school students in the library in Santee tutoring and I thought, ‘oh, if I could just tell them to do this, that would really help!’” she said.

Bozhor said she began realizing the need for tutoring and homework assistance options in Santee, but the library was undergoing renovations and she needed to find a new venue.

“We still wanted to keep tutoring so we approached the Santee School District and asked if we could use one of the classrooms that wasn’t being used to turn it into a tutoring center for them,” said Bozhor. “That was great because some of the kids who were coming to me at the library had a hard time, their parents worked and couldn’t get them to the library. The next year, four schools wanted us.”

Momentum is now celebrating their tenth year in their own building, though they still have a presence in schools in the area. In the summer, they hire 15 high school and college-age tutors; during the school year, that number doubles as they work to service 150 local students with their homework and tutoring needs.

“It’s all about the tutors,” said Bozhor. “If they’re looking for a job at 16 it’s because they’re supporting their families or they’re trying to get out or they’re trying to build themselves. Those kids are coming to us because they need help and mentoring.”

Bozhor said the student tutors fill a vital role in the center and, she hopes, are benefited by both the paycheck and the priceless experience of working with Momentum’s kids.

“I think what we do is open the door in our community,” said Bozhor. “That’s the basis of momentum – we’re a refinery. In every community you have these amazing teenagers and young adults and there aren’t a lot of options for them. Momentum is an opportunity for these young adults and teenagers to come in and make a difference. They can really teach a child to read. They can help a junior higher get over a friend issue. They can relate, and when they’re put in a position where they can connect with someone and help them, that’s when it becomes more than a job for them.”

The aforementioned Nolan Smith is one such student tutor.

When Smith told Bozhor about his intentions to get a “easier” job – something along the lines of burger flipping – Bozhor would not have it.

“I looked at him, my jaw dropped down on the table and I said, ‘Did you hear yourself? You are so talented, the kids love you, and you need to reconsider this,” Bozhor said. “I just reminded him, ‘Dude, you can make such a difference right where you are.’”

Smith changed his mind. He has spent the summer helping coordinate the music for the movies Momentum students have been producing about subjects they are studying.

“Originally, I didn’t like the stress involved — I just wanted something mindless and easy,” said Smith. “Then [Bozhor] made me realize that I actually impact children’s lives and that it is meaning. That made me realize that I don’t just want a throwaway job.”

Tutors like Smith and Rezendes make all the difference said Michelle May, Momentum’s human resource manager.

“We get so many parents who come in and say, [my child] won’t work with me, and then they come in and work with us,” said May. “We hire a lot of younger people and they relate to younger people. Most of the time, students want to come to tutoring.”

May herself has been a product of Momentum’s life-changing reach. She began working with Bozhor while still attending San Diego State University. May had one request when she joined Bozhor’s team: she did not want to work with little children.

“I knew she’d be good with the younger kids,” said Bozhor with a smile, “so I put her with the younger kids.”

Now, May has a multi-subject teaching credential from the state of California and teaches moderate to severe special education classes at Carlton Oaks.

“We always tell the tutors in the beginning, but by the end, you’ll call these your kids,” said May.
“Even tutors have just been here a year will say, ‘oh yeah, my kid did this.’ So our tutors go home with a huge impact themselves. They’ll find out they really love working with kids after working here.”

All summer, Momentum has hosted camps for students, keeping their doors open for nearly 12 hours each day to accommodate their various families’ needs.

The summer camps have revolved largely around producing films, written and directed by the young students themselves. They have explored everything from science fiction and fantasy to documentaries.

Their movies will premiere at the Moon over Momentum Kids’ Film Festival on August 25 at 4 p.m. at the San Diego Comic Art Gallery.

“It’s hard for me to say in normal words what happens here,” said Bozhor of the unassuming center in Santee, decorated with hand-drawn posters and dressed with the cheerful smiles of children who seem far too excited to be doing homework in the middle of summer.

“How do I tell my story without saying everything?” she said. “I see that we do tutoring, but it’s so much deeper.”

And it is true. Many of Momentum’s stories must remain private, between the families and the center that helps their children rise above their circumstances and personal obstacles. But the stories are there.

Many students receive scholarships; others are able to participate because of work-trade deals made by their families. Bozhor does not like turning anyone away, but her desire to make Momentum accessible to everyone may also be what endangers the center most.

“Momentum needs to be a success financially and not just be good for the kids,” said Bozhor. “If Momentum is going to continue, I need help from the community. If the whole community wants this, everybody has to join in. If you believe in this, if you see what’s happening, set up. We have so many jobs here, we have more demand than we are able to serve. We need to be actively always recruiting and training so we can meet the need that’s out there. There are a lot of people who can already afford us, but we wan’t to reach the people who can’t afford us.”

Bozhor said she thinks about the future of Momentum and how to get it to where she pictures it can be.

Mostly, Johnson said he just thinks about the first day of school.

“I have more confidence because I’ve been coming here [to Momentum],” he said. “I had a break before and I was super scared, like ‘Ah! High school!’ but then I started coming here and I feel prepared.”

Johnson said he is glad he has spent his summer at tutoring.

“I want to be confident going in to all my classes,” he said. “I didn’t want to regret anything.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here