By Jacqueline Escobar
Over the years, certain school districts have failed to implement quality support that students need in order to excel in academics and be prepared for college. Until elected officials support programs that aid high school students in enriching their knowledge in various academic fields, many young adults provide tutoring and counseling that help prepare students who plan on moving forward in their academic paths.
Kayla Flores, a 2015 graduate of Hempstead High School, is now a junior at Hofstra University, after transferring from Nassau Community College. Flores, whose family is from El Salvador, is a Sillcox scholarship recipient. She returns to Hempstead High School to contribute to the students as a GEAR (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness) up tutor. Because mathematics is her strongest subject, she is an integrated algebra and algebra core tutor. She has provided assistance to children who are in need of help when they don’t understand material in the classroom. “When I worked for seventh graders, I was just tutoring one particular student. When I worked for 8th graders, I walked around to see who needed assistance. When I worked for 9th graders, I assisted as a teacher assistant,” Flores said.
She says the GEAR up program not only assists students with specific subjects, but also provides students insight into the college environment. “Besides tutoring, GEAR provides trips to colleges to see how it
is to attend college, to understand different degrees, how many years a degree equals to and the expenses of college,” she said.
Flores gives props to teachers in the district who work extra hours for students who don’t understand the class material. She knows the work and stress it can entail to be an educator of many students. She gives up her lunch break during work to tutor students at Hempstead High School.
“Even when I was on lunch break and even if I was too tired to do it, teaching students tends to happen every moment. I’m not going to discard the student; I am someone that the students can rely on and I don’t want to break that trust,” Flores said. She regrets that the GEAR Up program has not received more recognition.
Attending Nassau Community College and transferring to Hofstra has taught Flores how to be a better student and to be proactive with her academics. In addition to tutoring, she gives back to the students in Hempstead by participating in the Sillcox Alumni panel, an event that allows her to share her college experiences with future Sillcox corhorts. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; don’t be afraid of not knowing,” Flores advises high school students who may not be confident in their academic pursuits.
Although a program like GEAR up benefits high school students, it is not only high school students who benefit from peer tutoring.
Diontae Joshua Alleyne, a graduate of Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is a senior broadcasting major at LIU Post. Although he has experienced life as a HEOP student, he became a tutor himself to give back to students. Alleyne has duties similar to a teacher and a mentor. As a HEOP tutor, he “had to make sure the students were on time to class, making sure they did their homework, and answer any type of questions that they were confused about,” he said.
During the summer, freshman entering HEOP undergo an intensive five weeks of college preparation work. Alleyne participated in the college preparation program, both as a student and as a tutor. “I enjoyed the five weeks mainly for the students. I shared a personal relationship with each and every one of those guys during the summer, so it was definitely bigger than just the money,” he said.
The HEOP program has helped Alleyne become a better student himself, academically. He said that being involved in the program has shaped his whole perspective on how serious school should be taken. “The one thing I would say that changed me as a person would be my freshman year. I was failing almost every class and on the verge of being academically suspended. William Clyde, who runs the HEOP program, pulls me into his office and talked (wasn’t a good one) but after that conversation with him, I had two options, either continue to go down the bad path I was going to or I could take Mr. Clyde’s advice and finish out my three years strong,” he said.
Alleyne believes more tutoring and support programs should be implemented on campuses. Alleyne credits the program for leading him to this, his last semester of his senior year. “I strongly believe we should have this type of help in our communities. Where I live, there’s so many ethnicities with talent and most can’t go to college because it’s not affordable for them,” he said.
The HEOP program has motivated him to pursue his passion and to earn better grades during his time in college.
Mia Vetri, a 2014 graduate of St. Catharine’s Academy in the Bronx, will graduate from LIU Post in 2019 with her undergraduate and master’s in criminal justice and minor in forensic psychology. She has an Italian and Puerto Rican background. She grew up in the Bronx with her mother, father, and older sister. Vetri received sports awards throughout high school due to her dedication on the girls’ soccer varsity team. In the beginning of high school, Vetri did not have any interest in academics. Becoming college ready and a tutor counselor for HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) students at Long Island University helped strengthen her reading and writing skills. “Everything the students were taught, I was taught too,” she said.
She said the HEOP program gives students a second chance to redeem themselves academically for their future and believes that this kind of peer counseling and tutoring assistance should be offered, not just in college but for high school students as well.
“To me, the HEOP program is a second chance for students who didn’t excel in high school. It’s a program where incoming freshman can get that help they most likely did not receive while in high school,” Vetri said.
As a tutor HEOP counselor, Vetri mentors other students in the program.“I would give extra help to students who needed it, even if it exceeded the initial tutoring hours,” she said.
Vetri enjoyed her experience as a HEOP tutor for its ability to change a student’s academic viewpoint and their choices outside the classroom. She loved how she was capable of building a connection with each student. “I related to the students due to the fact that I wasn’t a very good student in high school. I didn’t want my students to make the same mistakes that I did,” Vetri said.
Maleek King, a 2017 graduate of Hempstead High School, is a freshman at Nassau Community College. He is a US citizen with a Jamaican and African-American background. King has given back to his community by volunteering at the Hempstead Public Library and giving out food to those attending Agepe ministries. King is a Sillcox recipient and has received a mathematics scholarship from Hempstead High School. He has a desire to become a math teacher for New York State public school system. King decided to work as a GEAR (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness) tutor at his college. This program ensures that students will gain an early access to the college process and academic support from adolescence to adulthood.
“Some students are unaware of the process of registering, applying to school, and the amount of years it takes to retrieve a certain college degree,” he said.
With a passion for mathematics, King tutors for students who are in need of help in Algebra One and Two. Aside from providing math assistance, King is also a mentor to these students when he is off the clock. “I don’t see this as a job. Although I want to be a teacher, having the ability to mentor someone one on one and relate to them with similar life experiences is crucial, especially in the Hempstead School District today,” King said.
“When I attended Hempstead High School, I noticed that there was only one teacher that gave class instruction instead of it being a teacher, teacher assistant, and a tutor in a class. Most of the time, I would see only one teacher trying to help a lot of students all at once,” King said.
Tutors, like King, rescue teachers who can’t give undivided attention to just one student, especially when the lesson is hard to understand. If the GEAR up program was developed earlier, King believes that his grades in the beginning of high school would have improved.
“Having the opportunity to work for GEAR up establishes my foundation for teaching and I am certain to become a mathematics educator in New York State. My overall experience of transitioning from high school to college and becoming a mentor to my students was necessary because in our community, having a connection with our students is beneficial and crucial for our success rate to flourish,” King said.
Flores, Alleyne, Vetri, and King are just some of the college students who are giving back to their communities by tutoring and mentoring other students. So, will our children continue to be left behind? As one culturally diverse community, supporting programs like GEAR up and HEOP enable us to put political issues aside and place children’s needs and development first.