The College Partnership for Kids, the College of William and Mary’s largest and oldest tutoring program, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
CPK is a tutoring program between College students and Williamsburg-James City County and York County public schools. The program began as the initiative of two College students who began tutoring at the D.J. Montague Elementary School in Williamsburg.
Today, 150 tutors volunteer a total of 300 hours of community service each week to nine local elementary and middle schools. Individual and small group training is provided during the school day, as well as homework help after the final school bell rings. The partnership is part of the Office of Community Engagement, which also sponsors other community outreach organizations including Lafayette Kids, Project Phoenix and Pineapple Kids.
Coordinator of Education Programs for the Office of Community Engagement Sherry McKinney began her advisor position to CPK in August 2015. Prior to working at the College, she served as a school counselor in the south side of Chicago and as a middle school teacher in Chicago and Maine.
“CPK’s growth and strength over the past 25 years is due to the value William and Mary students place on community engagement,” McKinney said in an email. “As a newcomer to the college, I’ve been struck by just how committed W&M students are to service in their communities.”
“CPK’s growth and strength over the past 25 years is due to the value William and Mary students place on community engagement. As a newcomer to the college, I’ve been struck by just how committed W&M students are to service in their communities.” — Sherry McKinney
Through tutoring in local elementary and middle schools, CPK tutors are exposed to the opportunity gap that exists in the Williamsburg educational system. One of CPK’s Student Directors Justin Shawler ’16 explained that the opportunity gap in Williamsburg-James City County is not the traditional gap characteristic of urban school systems, where poverty is obvious.
“Instead, it’s a sort of hidden rural poverty, or even hidden suburban poverty, but that’s just as visible for anyone that spends a particular length of time in the school system,” Shawler said.
In 2011, the Virginia Department of Education released a report stating that 71 percent of economically disadvantaged third grade students passed Reading SOL tests in Williamsburg-James City County, compared to 88 percent of all Virginia third grade students. According to the most recent census data from 2009-13, 19.5 percent of the Williamsburg population lives below the poverty threshold compared to 11.3 percent of Virginia’s population.
Student Director Lillie Hughes ’17 said that the difference in opportunities between students at the College and students at area schools are stark.
“In terms of opportunity, we have all the opportunities in the world here at William and Mary. There are so many people doing incredible things,” Hughes said. “These kids, they don’t even know it yet, don’t have the resources and opportunities that we have.”
Training sessions in the works for tutors in the Spring 2016 semester include specific training for students with ADD and ADHD, students who are behind reading grade level and equipping tutors with effective math strategies. In the field of mathematics, tutors want to be reassured that their students truly understand the concepts as opposed to simple memorization of lessons.
CPK tutors also teach special education students. A challenge faced by tutors is the attention span of special needs students, who tend to be distracted and excited very easily. Tricks used by both Shawler and Hughes range from adding games to the school day to spending an extra 20 minutes at lunch.
“I spend the first 5-10 minutes talking about how their day is going,” Shawler said. “They can clear their mind and I’m able to work better with them then with a better understanding of what sort of pressures they’re dealing with that day.”
Assistant Vice President of the College Drew Stelljes spoke at the reception celebrating CPK’s 25th anniversary on Nov. 10. Stelljes is the former Director of the Office of Community Engagement and current professor with the Sharpe Community Scholars Program. He has taught courses and Sharpe seminars including “Theory to Practice: Examining the Mathematic and Science Achievement Gap in High-Needs Schools,” “Achievement Gap in the Schools” and “Opportunity Gaps in US Schools.” These Sharpe seminars are responsible for several students’ involvement in CPK, including Shawler, who became involved through the tutoring requirement for a Sharpe seminar class concerning opportunity gaps in U.S. education.
“In the case of tutoring and mentoring,” Stelljes said. “I think quite frankly that we will continue to be needed.”