Selena gets some help with homework, listening to instructions from Kasandra Baber, director of Skyway UMC’s tutoring program. For more photos, click here.
Making the Grade | By Jesse N. Love
Malcom Baber is helping a young person with science homework: “Q-U-A-K-E-S. Erase the ‘c’. It’s one word…You want to erase the whole thing? Okay.” Baber then switches to his laptop computer and the discussion moves from land to sea: “You’ve never heard of coral reefs? You’re in for a treat.” Malcom along with several adults from Skyway UMC are supporting youngsters with their homework during the local church’s tutoring program.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Skyway opens its doors to help children improve their skills in math, science, language arts and more. On a typical night, the church helps around eight to 13 students ranging from kindergarten to high school. Centered in the low-income area of Skyway, this program has served the local community for 16 years and has grown – with some students coming from as far as Renton, Seattle, Kent, and Des Moines. The reputation of this program’s success has spread so much that many are on a waiting list to be entered into this program.
“We see this as a ministry in the church in service to the community,” shares Kasandra Baber, director for the program. “Our tutors are volunteers. The program is here to help them academically, to make a connection with young people who participate, and to make sure they are cared for.” Tutors in the program range from retired educators, church members, friends and family, to other members in the community.
Over the years, the program has nurtured ties with its students, parents, and local schools. “When I came here as a pastor, we were an aging congregation,” the Rev. Steve Baber explains. “At all Ad-Council meetings, they were adamant in saying there were no children in this community…which I found contrasting because there were children all over the place.” Rev. Baber has been serving at Skyway UMC for almost 16 years. Before launching the tutoring program, he began learning more about the community and how schools in the area began reopening, remodeling, rebuilding, and even expanding schools. In learning more about the community, Baber asked of them, “What can we do to help you?” Parents responded by lifting up the challenge of helping their children with their schoolwork. And by meeting the needs, the tutoring program was formed.
In its initial phases, the tutoring program existed as “two-phase project”: volunteer retirees would visit the schools in the day, while other volunteers would have more focused tutoring at church during the evenings. Today, the tutoring program continues to reach out to the community. Several former college grad and working professional tutees have returned to support future generations in the program.
The volunteer staff at Skyway UMC’s tutoring program each have their unique perspective on why they see this educational ministry as important to the community. “Our primary goal is to make sure every student has an opportunity to succeed academically,” shares Mrs. Baber. We want to work with them to see what their talents produce; we want them to have responsible lives through education.” Vera Williams, the co-director and volunteer of this program works as an advocate for students. “Sometimes kids have been discouraged by teachers. We are teaching students to be their own advocates and to not let somebody say they can’t do something.”
“The more education you have the more you can achieve,” shares Malcom Baber. ”It’s just a good thing to expand your mind because there’s a lot of things in the world you just don’t know. Find these things out, form your own opinion and you’ll be at a point you where you are not being told what to think, but you can think for yourself and form your own voice. I think it’s a power thing that comes with your education.”
Step Out for Your Community!
Have children in your community who need help with their schoolwork?
Have volunteers in the community who want to meet the needs of its students?
Here are some tips from Kasandra Baber on beginning your own tutoring program your church:
1. Work hard and pray.
I would say the first thing is to come together as a church and pray about your ministry – you want it to be led by Christ. I believe our program has been in service for as long as it has been, thanks to His anointing.
2. Step out on faith.
Go out and see examples of how you want to set the program. If there are individuals who would like to know how to get started, we at Skyway are happy to share our lessons learned.
3. Be consistent.
If you get one or two students a night, it’s important to be consistent. When we first started we just had a few students show up in one night, but we consistently showed the community we were going to be here.
The tutoring program at Skyway United Methodist Church was given the Gertrude Apel Pioneering Spirit Award during the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Annual Fall Dinner in September 2011. It is staffed with passionate volunteers and eager students who are excited about learning and can use a little help. If you are interested in supporting this program, contact Kasandra Baber at Skyway UMC through Channels. E-mail email@example.com.
Jesse N. Love serves as the print & publications manager for the PNWUMC
Download Channels 59 here.