They worked through the story together, word by word.
Second-grader Angel Bega read the words he recognized. Nacy McConnell, his tutor that day at Grace Episcopal Church, helped with the ones he didn’t know.
“Every time she wrote a name, she ...” Bega read.
“Repeated,” McConnell said.
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“The more the ...” Bega read.
“Merrier,” McConnell said, finishing the sentence.
“Do you know what repeated means?” McConnell asked.
“Yes, it means you say it over and over again,” Bega said.
The exercise was a basic one, but Bega’s Spanish-speaking family is thankful he’s getting the help.
His mom, Maria Bega, said it’s hard to help her son with his homework because she speaks little English. That’s why she brought him to Grace’s after-school program a few weeks ago.
It’s a bonus that her son doesn’t seem to mind the twice-weekly sessions, Maria Bega said. “He likes everything,” she said.
Seven elementary school students have been using Grace’s free after-school tutoring since the church held its first session in January.
Grace’s pastor, the Rev. John Gibson, said the idea for the program came out of a retreat the church’s governing board held last spring. Because it starting with just a handful of volunteers, the church decided to focus on helping children who live in Alta mobile home park.
Home to many low-income Hispanic families, Alta is on N.C. 42 across from West Clayton Elementary and just down the road from Grace’s building on Lee Court.
For students with parents who speak little English, getting help with their school work can be hard, Gibson said. “The parents can help them with math fine but can’t help a lot with reading, grammar and pronunciation,” he said.
Gibson and the tutoring program’s coordinator, Timolee Dohner, dropped leaflets in the mobile home park in December to let parents know about the free sessions. Word of mouth has since spread around the neighborhood, and now the tutoring program has a waiting list.
Grace needs more volunteers for the one-on-one sessions with students. Volunteers, who go through a background check and safety training, are asked to commit one day each week.
Volunteer Gloria McConnell, a church member at Grace, said she’s worked with the same student since the tutoring program started. A retired training consultant, she said she knows little Spanish, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of learning.
Grace’s sessions are in English, and most of the students are fluent in both languages.
“It’s amazing how she’ll be struggling with something, and then you work with her and all of the sudden a light comes on,” McConnell said of her student.
After they arrive for a session, students sit down for a snack and talk about their days. The group prays, and then the tutoring lasts about an hour.
For Gibson, Grace’s pastor since December 2013, the program is the first step in the church engaging more with the community. It’s his hope to have a Spanish-language service at Grace in the future.
“We are trying to do all of this organically by discerning what the needs are,” Gibson said. “One need in this area are the kids.”
To volunteer, call Dohner at 919-553-2810.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104
Want to volunteer?
Anyone interested in volunteering for Grace Episcopal Church’s after-school tutoring program can call the Rev. John Gibson or the program’s coordinator, Timolee Dohner, at 919-553-2810. Volunteers must submit to a background check and a safety-training class.