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Campus Life

A Helping Hand

BU student volunteers tutor middle school students


For 10 weeks every semester, Boston-area college students tutor Chelsea middle school students through the Chelsea Community Schools (CCS) Homework Help program. Chelsea, a small, densely populated city across the harbor from Boston, has three middle schools, with more than 1,500 students.

The Boston University chapter of Phi Iota Alpha, the nation’s oldest existing Latino fraternity, has worked with Chelsea Community Schools for four years to recruit tutors from area colleges. They are dedicated to continuing Homework Help year after year as a service project of the fraternity.

Phi Iota Alpha president Serame Castillo (CAS’10) says being a tutor can offer a much-needed break from the hectic life at Boston University. “I really enjoy the program and just wish more BU students would volunteer so that we could help out more kids,” he says. A good tutor is enthusiastic and caring, and most are not education majors, says Castillo, but major in areas like international relations, biology, and communications. They come from colleges all over Boston.

Homework Help began in 2006 and is available several days a week for 10 weeks each semester. Tutoring sessions are either scheduled or on a walk-in basis. After the sessions, kids and their tutors can share a snack or participate in a variety of activities.

This program also enables middle school students to learn about college life. By the end of the program, youths have the skills and drive necessary to complete their homework on their own, or they can continue attending walk-in hours.

Recruiting tutors isn’t easy. A substantial commute by public transportation from BU to Chelsea makes it difficult to find tutors willing to make the commitment. But those who do enjoy the experience, and many volunteer in Chelsea for several semesters and spread the word to their friends.

Wright Middle School sixth grader Jonathan Vargas attends Homework Help. “I like getting my homework done fast and then playing games,” he says. “I got bad grades on my progress report, and my mom heard about the program. I’m coming so I can get better grades on my report card.” 

“The relationship between the students and the tutors is the most valuable aspect of our program,” says Aaron Sarracino (CAS’08), the program’s coordinator. “They are able to learn so much from each other.”

 Phi Iota Alpha will hold a tutor recruitment session on Wednesday, April 21, at 6 p.m. in the Howard Thurman Center, GSU lower level, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Learn more about becoming a tutor and making a difference in middle school students’ lives here or e-mail Phi Iota Alpha at phiota@bu.edu.  

Amy Laskowski contributed to this story. She can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @amlaskow.

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