Yeshiva University Literacy Program
It’s 10:30 am on a Friday morning when John’s hand shoots up from his desk. John is one of twenty-five students in Ms. Weber’s eighth grade math class and he is having difficulty graphing during independent work time. In a class so big, it is rare for Ms. Weber’s students to get the individual attention they require, but Fridays are different. Ari Tepler spots John’s hand and makes his way over. Together they go over slopes, patiently reviewing the formulas and steps.
Tepler is a sophomore at Yeshiva College and has spent almost every Friday of the past two semesters assisting and tutoring in Ms. Weber’s eighth grade class. He is one of sixty Yeshiva University students volunteering in the Yeshiva University Literacy Program, a non-profit club dedicated to helping local public school students in Washington Heights to succeed and excel academically in the subjects of English, Science, History, and Math. For fifty minutes each week, Yeshiva students tutor and mentor primary and secondary school students, many of whom have disadvantaged backgrounds and cannot otherwise afford tutoring sessions and individualized help.
Josh Levy, current Yeshiva College co-President of the program, explained that the Literacy Program started off as a grassroots program “spearheaded by a handful of students who wanted to help the Washington Heights community.” Since its establishment over a decade ago, however, it has grown into a full-fledged program, with its size and influence increasing tremendously. Today, the Literacy Program works alongside three Washington Heights public schools: WHEELS, IS 143, and, most recently, PS 132. Through the program, teachers in these schools can request either classroom tutors or tutors for specific individuals. Their requests are uploaded to the YU Literacy Program online server, through which Yeshiva students can volunteer for specific time slots.
Partially responsible for the Literacy Program’s more recent growth is its active presence at Stern College. This year, the program officially became funded on the Beren Campus and has recruited Miriam Mond and Shoshana Mond as co-Presidents, Jeni Rossberg as Vice President, and Tamar Levy as Marketing Director. They work alongside Levy and his Wilf Campus co-President, Yosef van Bemmelen, meeting with teachers and principals, creating events, and controlling the program’s website and social media. In addition to the new team members on the Beren Campus, the program has also acquired a stipend to reimburse transit fees of Stern volunteers who come on a weekly basis, resulting in a large increase of female volunteers.
On the most basic level, the mission of the Literacy Program is an educational one. WHEELS Program Coordinator, Kerry MacNeil, explained that “our goals with the Literacy Program are to offer additional support to our students in their content classes, to meet students’ needs.” Some of the schools involved in the program have received poor ratings from the New York Board of Education in the past, with many of their students coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Through the program, the schools’ teachers get extra hands to teach their lessons, either in small groups or on an individual basis, providing a stronger and more personalized education.
Perhaps even more significant than the volunteers’ roles as educators, however, is their unique opportunities to be role models. Levy recalled a specific student who was frequently absent from school, yet always came to class on the particular day he and the other Yeshiva tutors came. The teacher of the class later told him that that student wrote a story about how his favorite part of the week was when Josh came to tutor. “Becoming a role model brings out the best in you and is a great experience that enables you to have a meaningful impact on the younger generation,” Levy commented.
From a wider lens, the program is special in the partnership it creates between the Yeshiva community and larger Washington Heights community. This was certainly the case for Yeshiva College Sophomore Avi Mendelson, who joined the program this past Fall. “Volunteering in the public school has given me exposure to another community and culture that I would otherwise have never gotten to know,” said Mendelson. “Recently I was walking through the Heights and recognized a student from my class. It made me feel like a real member of the neighborhood, that I'm not at YU just to take some classes and earn a degree but to really live and learn from all the people around me while I'm here.”
Looking ahead, the Literacy Program hopes to continue its great success and have even more Yeshiva students involved in its meaningful initiative. In addition to its fantastic kick-off event with Teach for America this year, it plans on having additional events for all tutors in the future.
Asked what makes the Literacy Program so special, the program’s leadership agreed, “The Literacy Program not only benefits the students that we tutor, but it also helps volunteers become more comfortable teaching and interacting with a diverse range of students.” Noted Levy, “As much as I find that these students gain from me, I, in fact, gain from them. Every time I leave the school after tutoring I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
For more information on the Yeshiva University Literacy Program, like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yeshiva-University-Literacy-Program/1038320129517821 or sign up for a tutoring time slot at http://www.jooners.com/guest?l=ebb32ba6-9779-4843-a956-37e27638495d.