April 3, 2014

Tutoring and mentoring nonprofit has college students helping out at high schools

A nonprofit started by university students now fans out dozens of volunteer tutors across elementary schools in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The Stanislaus Tutoring and Mentoring Program pairs community service and career goals.

A nonprofit group started with university students now fans out dozens of volunteer tutors across elementary schools in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The Stanislaus Tutoring and Mentoring Program, or STAMP, relies on those committed to community to spread the learning.

“I feel like this is the best way to contribute to the community,” said Melanie Koochof during a break at Pitman High in Turlock. Koochof, a biology major at California State University, Stanislaus, plans to be a doctor. She volunteers every Tuesday at Pitman’s Bridge program, taught by Danny Frietas, helping sophomores who need to make up classes.

“A lot of these students are very bright, very smart, and I have such faith in them. But they need confidence that they can do it,” Koochof said. Frietas said she particularly helps these students with math.

“They’re all capable,” Koochof said. “They missed out on basic things that prevent them from moving ahead.” To get them through, she provides “a tiny crash course” in the missing link.

“I try to guide them, asking questions. So the next time, when I’m not there, they can think for themselves,” she said. “When I’m helping them with a problem, then on the next problem they get it – that’s satisfaction.”

For teacher Tony Lynch, that’s the key difference with the college student tutors. “It’s a really good resource to have,” said Lynch, who worked with Koochof last year. High school students also help out as tutors, he said, but tend to focus on just getting through the questions. College tutors, on the other hand, he said, tend to evaluate each student’s strengths and help develop study skills. “They have more maturity,” he said.

This semester, Lynch has his Anime Club students connecting as pen pals with Japanese students, another STAMP project. “I wasn’t sure they’d take to it at all. To sit down and write a pen-and-paper letter,” he said. “But they’ve taken to it with a lot of excitement.”

STAMP got its start with Michael Camara, now its executive director. Camara taught in Japan but came back to his family’s Turlock dairy in 2007, intending to go into teaching. With the recession, he said, teaching opportunities were slim, so he began tutoring kids of dairy workers. Camara, with CSU, Stanislaus, student and part-time teacher Derek Alvarado, started tutoring at Turlock High in 2010. The two founded the nonprofit with elementary teacher Phong Vongmalaithong and Modesto native and medical student Jose Diego.

“There was a consensus on the desire to make a real difference locally. We wanted to support our community both academically and professionally,” Camara said.

Besides helping kids learn algebra and study skills, tutoring also develops future teachers. A STAMP recruitment poster notes that the volunteer hours provide classroom experience for résumé development and that helpers get coaching from veteran teachers.

The program now has 37 tutors serving 23 schools in Stanislaus and Merced counties. It loses about one-third of its tutors each year, most going on to graduate school, Camara said, and replenishes them as school begins in August. STAMP’s mentoring activities include linking students with area professionals and a series of lectures on its website,

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