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Beyond the Belle: Saint Mary’s students assist South Bend teachers, build community

| Thursday, November 18, 2021

Students at Saint Mary’s College are strengthening literacy, community and love through Beyond the Belle, a student led program that works out of the Office for Common Good. For this Tri-Campus Thursday, The Observer spoke with two students who participate in the program by tutoring children in local South Bend schools.

Beyond the Belle sends Saint Mary’s College students to Darden Elementary and the Notre Dame Center for Civic Innovation (CCI). At Darden Elementary, students assist kindergarten teachers with a range of tasks and needs in the classroom, while the students at the CCI work on literacy development as tutors in the center’s after-school program. 

Allyson Emmett, a senior at Saint Mary’s, became involved with Beyond the Belle during her first semester at the College. While seeking opportunities through the Office for the Common Good, known at the time as the Office for Civic and Social Engagement, she came across Beyond the Belle. Aside from her one semester spent abroad, she participated in the program every semester. This year, she serves as a program leader at the CCI. 

A typical hour in the after-school program involves reading to a student, having the student read to the tutor, working on a writing prompt and learning “sight words,” or common words that young readers can learn to recognize without hesitation. 

Bonding with the students can create a meaningful experience for students and tutors alike. Majoring in Spanish and global studies with a concentration in anthropology, Emmett found a connection with some of her Spanish-speaking students through their shared bilingual experiences.

“Having that mutual status as a language learner helps build comfort in our relationship,” Emmett said.

Emmett said it is important to be engaged with the South Bend community outside of the Saint Mary’s campus, which is what working with Beyond the Belle has allowed her to do. With Beyond the Belle, she is able to watch students grow in confidence and literacy skills as the semester progresses.

“I know it’s easy to be in school and to stay in the Saint Mary’s bubble or the tri-campus bubble, but really learning the needs of the community and serving them is something that we really promote,” Emmett said.

On the other side of Beyond the Belle, Saint Mary’s sophomore Kathleen Hannon began working with kindergarten students at Darden Elementary this semester. Every Tuesday, Hannon spends two hours at the elementary school providing classroom assistance and ensuring that students receive the direct attention they need. 

“Our job is to give each student attention and to make sure that they are heard and they know that they have a support system,” said Hannon. 

For her religious studies major, Hannon is taking a class called “Faith in Action,” which requires that students take on a service opportunity outside of the classroom. Choosing to join Beyond the Belle for the class, Hannon said she has no plans to leave the program when this semester ends.

With a major in religious studies, Hannon said it is a privilege to work in an educational setting that may not necessarily be part of her future career path. Still, she said, Beyond the Belle allows her to see the intersection of her studies and her service.

“For me, religious studies is all about meeting people where they’re at, and it’s so important each day when you go to Darden to meet these kids where they’re at,” Hannon said. “It’s all about responding to the needs that you’re presented with at that time.” 

The most rewarding aspect of the experience, Hannon said, is the love shown by the kindergarten students. Greeting her with hugs and cheers of “Miss Kat! Miss Kat!” the students create a welcoming break in the day of a busy college student. 

“Even though I’m the one going to them, they provide me with such a support system — and they don’t even know it,” Hannon said.

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About Siobhan Loughney

Siobhan is a sophomore majoring in Economics. She comes from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, but lives in Welsh Family Hall at Notre Dame.

Contact Siobhan