Christian and Susan at Goddard Riverside’s Star Learning Center in 2015
Susan Galligan wasn’t interested in working with children. When she retired from her job as a lawyer, she wanted to volunteer in adult literacy. But an advisor at a volunteer clearinghouse encouraged her to check out the Star Learning Center anyway. As soon as she saw Star’s cheerful book-lined space filled with nooks for tutors and students, she changed her mind.
“I came in and I fell in love with it,” she says. “I felt like it fit. And the support they offer is terrific.”
That was over six years ago. Now she’s still coming every week during the school year, and some weeks over the summer, to tutor the same student. When they started, Christian was a third-grader who had trouble sitting still. Now he’s in high school and towers over her. At first they focused on reading and math. Then, as his skills improved, they added issues like time management. “One of the problems I have in school is organizing and scheduling,” Christian says. “But it’s getting better. I don’t have as many loose papers as before.”
“I forgot about the loose papers!” says Susan with a laugh.
As Christian progressed into algebra, she decided to relearn the material so she could see him through his first year of high school. When Christian got assigned a book in English, Susan happily read it too. (Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is one they both enjoyed.) She often turned to Star Learning director Monica Enciso and her staff for support. “Even the basics in the younger grades, they teach it differently now,” she says. “Monica is terrific at finding books and games that explain how they’re being taught.”
But recently, when she needed to get up to speed on some advanced math, she realized the best person to help her was Christian himself.
“I would have him write out a cheat sheet for me,” she explains. “It helped me understand how to do it again. And it forced him to set out how you do it step by step. He was really proud of himself when he knew more than I did.”
“You knew,” says Christian. “You just didn’t KNOW know.”
About 250 people each year volunteer as tutors at Star Learning, according to Enciso. And while it’s unusual for a volunteer to work with the same young person for as long as Susan has with Christian, many do stay with their student for more than one school year.
“We carefully match you up one-to-one and you get to know each other pretty well,” says Enciso. “A lot of volunteers are energized by seeing their student make progress.”
Tutors and students meet for two hours each week. Star Learning monitors each student’s progress and provides ongoing support to ensure things are moving in the right direction.
“Volunteers are the heart of this program and we appreciate them so much,” says Enciso. “We bend over backwards to make sure they have everything they need to succeed.”
What’s kept Susan coming back all these years?
“I like seeing how he’s grown,” she says. “And I keep learning too!”
Change a Life Ð Be a Tutor!
Star Learning Center needs volunteer tutors for underserved youth in grades 2-12 for the 2019-20 school year. Each tutor is matched to a student one to one and receives an in-depth orientation and support throughout the year. The commitment is just two hours each week. Investing in a strong community has never been this easyÑand this rewarding!
Christian and Susan now