A volunteer after-school tutoring program in Osoyoos is clearly filling an education need, based on growing demand for its services over the past year.
The free School After School program is run by retired educator David Adamson and a team of other volunteer retired educators and is now well into its second year.
School After School and its volunteer co-ordinator Adamson were recognized in April at the Town of Osoyoos Volunteer Appreciation and Awards Ceremony as “Best Volunteer Project.”
Adamson says there are currently 32 students registered in the program and, of those, close to 20 use it regularly.
Although the program was originally aimed at high school students, there are now roughly as many elementary school students, mainly at the higher grades, participating.
The program runs at Osoyoos Baptist Church, just down the hill from Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS), but it’s not a church program and there is no religious component.
The volunteer tutors help students with a wide range of subjects, often one-to-one, but some subjects are more in demand than others and math tops the list.
“We’ve been doing some physics, some chemistry and a little biology last semester,” said Adamson. “Math has been in big demand both at high school and pre-high school.”
Adamson said a growing number of students are choosing to do courses with School After School outside of the regular school framework.
“I’m in contact with a couple online schools,” said Adamson, adding that these are public schools because he prefers not to use independent schools.
“We go through the material and the kids get their credits from the online schools,” he said. “We do the teaching here at the School After School. We do the tests, the quizzes and the assignments and the final exams supplied by the online schools.”
The students watch videos and lectures online and then they have a chance to work through any difficulties either one-on-one or in a very low ratio teaching situation with the volunteer tutors.
This style of learning doesn’t work for all students, but for some it works very well.
“It’s for students who are finding it difficult to work in an environment where there’s a lot of kids,” said Adamson. “Some students just need that little bit of extra help and a lower ratio than they can get at public schools. I’m not knocking public schools. But some kids do find it very difficult to work in that environment, so they come to us and we help them with that.”
Another service that students have been asking for, and which School After School will be offering, is post-secondary career counselling, Adamson said.
Recently some students from Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) in Oliver have also been using the program. Most of these are SOSS students who live in Osoyoos, but one periodically makes the trip down from Oliver for help.
Although the program was initially aimed at high school students, Adamson said there are now students from grades five to seven from Osoyoos Elementary School participating.
“I totally sympathize with the elementary school teachers, because we’re a fairly small community here,” said Adamson. “In an elementary school classroom, there’s going to be a very wide range of abilities and capabilities, so the teachers teach a wide range of students. Then you add the fact that some of the teachers have split classes. So it’s quite logical that some of the kids are finding it difficult and teachers are finding it tough.”
Some of the elementary school teachers and aides are very supportive of School After School, he said.
“They are working with us to get the kids back on track and they need to be commended for doing that,” said Adamson.
In addition to a core group of five tutors, Adamson said some snowbirds were also enthusiastically volunteering during the winter.
“We found we had a number of retired teachers who come to Osoyoos during the winter,” he said. “We had a couple come and help us out over the winter months, which was absolutely fantastic. They enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the kids.”
The regular tutors, in addition to Adamson, are Anne Murseli, Margaret-Anne Turner, Giselle LeClair and Martha Collins.
Collins is a chiropractor and doesn’t have a formal teaching background, but Adamson said he was very impressed with the way she teaches patients about their bodies.
“I thought she would make a good teacher and so I sneakily recruited her,” he said. “She’s been super. She’s been great teaching the kids and she is so willing to go out of her comfort zone, teaching math.”
School After School runs normally from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, but Adamson said it often runs later to allow students to get their work done. It’s also been extended to Fridays to meet demand when necessary.
New this year has been an appointment system where students come on regular days, but Adamson said this has been adjusted to meet the needs of students involved in sports.
It has helped to spread the students more evenly through the week, though Mondays are always busy days.
“I really enjoy being with the youth,” said Adamson. “It’s nice for me and the other teachers to see them achieve their successes. It’s awesome.”
By Richard McGuire