Whenever Coco Fosu entered the classroom last year the three girls’ faces always brightened, and their eyes doubled in size. Tadeesha, Javier and Kianna’s excitement showed their love of learning. Fosu was their tutor and helped them improve their math and reading skills.
“The three girls had a lot of trouble reading,” Fosu said, “but they all passed their standardized testing. It was very satisfying.”
Fosu, a 20-year-old junior majoring in early childhood education, coordinates and participates in a Volunteer USF program that sends USF students to The USF Charter School at the Museum of Science and Industry. USF was the first public school in the country to establish a charter school. The school, located at MOSI, helps children in grades 3 and below. The children are from the Tampa area and have shown to do better with smaller class sizes and one-on-one tutoring.
“I don’t want them to be thought of as at-risk children,” said principal Geri Kelly. “We are very careful not to use that term. Some of our children are gifted, but more than 50 percent would probably struggle in a regular classroom setting.”
Kelly contacted Volunteer USF last year and spoke to coordinator Amy Simon about getting USF students to volunteer as tutors for the children at the charter school. Simon and Fosu decided to act, and Fosu quickly recruited and placed 10 students. Of the 10, nine were girls, most education majors.
This year, Fosu hopes to recruit more volunteers than last year.
“I sent out e-mails and flyers and even got up in my classes to get the word out there,” she said.
Volunteers must attend a one-hour training and are required to spend at least one hour per week tutoring.
“I only want the volunteers to commit for one semester,” Fosu said. “I know people’s schedules change, and I don’t want them to have to disappoint the children.”
Last year, Fosu tutored three girls, but she said she knows that not everyone can handle more than one child at a time.
“The girls were great,” Fosu said. “They worked well together and fed off each other.”
Some children don’t really need the tutoring, but need some extra attention.
“One of the girls was a middle child and didn’t get enough attention at home,” Fosu said. “It made me feel really good to know these kids were getting outside praise.”
The volunteers’ goal is to help the children pass standardized testing, but the charter school’s objective is bigger than that, Kelly said.
“We’re trying to allow these kids to get back into the mainstream,” Kelly said. “The school’s goal is not to get these kids to pass testing, but to allow them to do well in a regular classroom.”
Kelly also said it was important for the university to commit to its charter school.
“Coco right away took on ownership,” Kelly said. “This is the university’s charter school, and we want to get the university community involved into it.”
Simon, meanwhile, said she is pleased with Fosu’s efforts so far.
“The word is out,” she said. “Lots of students know about it. They really need tutors over there, and we’ve been able to help. And the school is close, people can go between classes and tutor for an hour.”
The children are pulled out of activity classes, such as physical education, for their tutoring, which means that all tutoring takes place between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
So far, 10 volunteers have been trained to begin tutoring, but more are lined up. This year, they are all women.
For Fosu the program has become an everyday job.
“I’m only scheduled to be here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” she said, “but it’s become an everyday thing,” she said.
Kelly said that Fosu’s work has already made a difference.
“Thanks to Coco, we got some tutoring last year,” she said. “We saw that the children were significantly helped.”
“The children were great,” Fosu said. “They were always excited and asked ‘What are we going to do the next time you come?’ It’s a positive thing for everyone involved.”
Alexander Zesch at firstname.lastname@example.org