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Saint Mary’s students support local schools

Haleigh Ehmsen | Monday, November 18, 2013

For more than seven years, the College Academy of Tutoring (CAT) Program at Saint Mary’s has helped students at Title I schools in South Bend to succeed.

“The main goal is to provide extra resources for area schools and area kids while also allowing Saint Mary’s students the opportunity to serve and learn from the community,” Jessica Bulosan, director of the CAT Program, said.

Participants in the CAT Program attended the lecture on Saturday by Erin Gruwell titled “Teaching Tolerance” to gain insight on their work in low-income schools.

Christin Kloski, student director for the CAT Program, said Gruwell spoke about the impact a mentor and teacher can make on a student, especially when the students challenge authority.

 “Our students are our true educators,” Kloski said. “We learn from them, and they help us to rework our teaching or tutoring to apply to their own lives or life experiences.

“The lecture simply gave all of us the extra push we needed to believe in what we are doing in the CAT program.”

Kloski, a junior, said Gruwell’s words resonated with participants of the CAT program, even if they never have to deal with such things themselves.

“[Gruwell’s] story is unique and can and should be applied to the CAT program,” she said. “Her words of inspiration and constant encouragement of her students is exactly what we must keep in mind and apply to our own students.”

Kloski said Gruwell’s lecture was especially meaningful because Saint Mary’s students often work with kids whose lifestyles may be different than theirs.

“Some of the students are just from torn-up homes,” Kloski said. “They are going through a lot more than we can ever imagine an eight- or nine-year-old going through.”

The CAT initiative began in 2006 as an AmeriCorps program in which Saint Mary’s students read to students at Title I schools for a half hour each week, Bulosan said.

“As our students would go in, they noticed there was a lot of need besides just reading to the kids,” she said. “Since then, the program has been developing and growing into what it is now.”

Bulosan said approximately 20 students are serving Coquillard Elementary and Jefferson Junior High through the CAT Program this semester.

Kloski said the program selects a few students each year to serve as CAT scholars. These students receive $1,000 a semester for two years of service. CAT requires scholars to work in the schools for 250 hours and to complete a larger service project each semester.

Students can also choose to be teaching assistants at Coquillard or to work as tutors at Coquillard or Jefferson, Kloski said.

Approximately 50 students participate in CAT’s pen-pal program during the spring semester, Bulosan said. In this project, Saint Mary’s students correspond with Coquillard students by handwritten mail. The program concludes with a dinner at the end of the semester.

Kloski said the pen-pal program enables students to participate in CAT without making a major time commitment.

“You get to see what’s going on in [South Bend students’] little world,” Kloski said. “It’s also a mentoring program. … Just giving out your personal experiences can help them set goals.”

Bulosan said students from various majors participate in the CAT Program.

 “Obviously, we have a lot of education majors in the program because it gives them a little extra experience,” she said. “We also have psychology and communicative disorders majors, but we take absolutely anybody who enjoys working with kids and wants to help kids.”

The CAT program serves the South Bend community just as much as it does Saint Mary’s students, Bulosan said.

“We’re definitely there for the kids. In Coquillard, we’re the only after-school program that they have,” Bulosan said. “But also, we want to help get Saint Mary’s students out of the bubble, into the community, working with kids and having fun doing it.

“We hope they learn, that they get just as much out of [the program] as they are giving to the kids. We hope they learn about diversity, diversity of opinions, diversity of experiences, just more about the world around them.”

Kloski stressed the importance of getting off campus and learning about the surrounding community.

“You experience so much that you can’t if you don’t get out of the Saint Mary’s bubble,” Kloski said. “We’re trying to find ways to connect our Saint Mary’s community with the local community, primarily with the schools that are involved with our program.”

Kloski said her three years participating in CAT have been a meaningful part of her education at Saint Mary’s.

“It’s a rewarding experience in what you are doing with the people and just seeing you can change lives, legitimately,” Kloski said. “You can see the change from year to year with your students.”

Kloski said the lower-income students might face problems at home that affect their behaviors in the classroom, but the relationships they develop with the Saint Mary’s students positively impact their school experiences.

“You [as a Saint Mary’s student] may be going through something tough, and when you get to the school, your kids may give you the biggest hug for no apparent reason other than that you arrived,” Kloski said. “You’re helping them succeed, little by little.

Contact Haleigh Ehmsen at [email protected]