Summer of Learning: A ReadersPLUS Journey from Kindergarten Classrooms to Global Mentorship
By Kathrin Rising
Jumping into a cool lake during the hot summer months, hanging out with friends from home, taking a trip to Europe – there are many different options for USC students for how to spend their summer breaks. There might not be many students who decide to spend it in summer school, though – especially in a Kindergarten classroom.
But Danica Montes, current ReadersPLUS Literacy Director, chose to do exactly that. As part of ReadersPLUS programming, tutors had the opportunity to continue their work during the summer in different ways: join the “It Takes A Village” program virtually or join summer school classrooms at John Mack Elementary as tutors and teaching assistants. Danica joined both and finished the summer with a breadth of new skills, knowledge, and experiences.
“Both programs were impactful in their own way,” Danica shared. “Beyond learning more about how to help students gain literacy skills, being a teaching assistant for a classroom of 18 Kindergarteners with different skill levels, personalities, and needs helped me gain a whole new appreciation and understanding for the teachers we work with and the struggles they face day-to-day.”
During the semester, ReadersPLUS tutors work one-on-one with students that need some extra support in literacy or math. The same tutors will work with the same child throughout the entire duration of the semester. During the four weeks of summer instruction, however, tutors were assigned to assist specific classrooms with many children to help lead group activities or educational games. Classrooms were divided by grade level and included students from various LAUSD schools, so some of the children shared a classroom with fellow classmates, while others did not know anyone before the summer.
“Seeing how different students work together and impact each other’s learning experience was a new revelation for me. I could group two advanced kids together but they might not make a good learning group at all, because their personalities just don’t match… or match too well for focused learning. Teachers having to make sure that students are not just paired by comprehension level but also by that aspect was something I had not considered before to be such a big factor in their learning outcomes.”
Online tutoring with “It Takes A Village” was a different experience. Tutors like Danica were assigned mentees that they met with regularly one-on-one, similar to during the regular school year. One big difference was that their mentees were children in foreign countries, like Africa, Uganda, or Mexico.
“I wanted to participate in this program because I wanted to continue what I had done before but also broaden my horizons and learn about other cultures,” Danica shared.
Tutoring the students abroad, in many ways, was a familiar task to our tutors who had done some virtual tutoring during the pandemic. But there were unique considerations, such as computer access. Tutors learned that canceling a session at the last minute was not an option, given that some of the students across the ocean had to walk four hours to school to be able to attend their tutoring session.
Danica and her student bonded over their common interest in science subjects. “I was very excited that my mentee loved science so much, since that’s a personal interest of mine as a Human Biology Major. That was also great for our mentor/mentee relationship, which I noticed aided the learning process. And we each got to mutually share our cultures with the other at the same time, I really enjoyed that.”
Offering the best of both worlds – literally – ReadersPLUS offered Danica an opportunity to extend her literacy journey over the summer, helping her to develop a better understanding of teachers’ and students’ experiences here in Los Angeles, while also learning more about the reality for students in other countries..