National S.A.I. Tutoring Summit
Several Sri Sathya Sai Centers across the country have been involved in a community service project tutoring children in low-income diverse neighborhoods. The programs share a common goal of supporting these children academically and enriching their lives through various activities they would, otherwise, not be exposed to, for instance, STEM-related activities such as coding and robotics. More importantly, tutoring serves as an opportunity for these children to develop positive, encouraging and supportive relationships with older youths and adults who can serve as mentors.
On September 18th 2021, about 120 members, comprising adults, young adults and Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students from Sri Sathya Sai Centers across the nation, participated in a virtual SAI (Schoolwork Assistance Initiative) Tutoring Summit. The summit gave Sai volunteers an opportunity to connect, be inspired and share their experience of providing learning support to underserved children in our communities.
Representatives of eight ongoing tutoring programs from across the U.S. gave a history of how they began their tutoring initiatives, maintained them over time, positive aspects and strengths of their programs, and plans for their growth and development. Here is a brief summary of some of the tutoring programs that were shared.
Hayward Unified School District, CA
The Sai Math Academy is a partnership between a few Sri Sathya Sai Centers in the Bay Area and six schools in the Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) in Northern California. About 50 high school students from the Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) conduct tutoring sessions for about 150 elementary school students in Math. Robotics and coding classes have also been offered in a couple of schools, with the hope of expanding it to all schools in future.
Chicagoland After-School Program
A few of the Chicagoland Sri Sathya Sai Centers have partnered with Port Ministries and offer weekly tutoring as part of their after-school program. About 15 Sai volunteers (mostly young adults) assist elementary school-aged children with Math, Science and Reading. The children have also been instructed in yoga to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Exciting programs in the pipeline include public speaking, robotics and developing computer apps to expand the children’s interest and prospects in pursuing STEM-related careers in the future.
Atlanta SAI tutoring program
Atlanta SAI tutoring program, started in 2016 with the goal of mentoring underserved children living in an area considered a food desert. The program was transitioned later to a virtual platform in the year 2020, when COVID struck. There are 30 tutors, comprising young adults, adults and Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children, who serve 22 students, primarily Afghan refugee children, by providing weekly tutoring in Math, Science and Reading. They hope to expand the program to more underserved schools and design a more effective feedback system. Here is a panel discussion by the adult and high school tutors of the program reflecting on their experiences in working with the Afghan refugee children.
Voices Academy, San Jose, CA
The fourth tutoring program called Voices, in San Jose, CA is conducted in a bilingual school that primarily serves elementary school children from first-generation non-English-speaking Hispanic immigrant families. Voices Academy provides tutoring in math and Computer Coding classes. Relationships with tutors are fostered through value-based activities, making learning an enjoyable process. Rounding off the year is a field trip for the children and their parents to high tech firms such as Google to expand the children’s vision of possible careers. There are plans to expand the program to a second school.
Robotics Club, Austin, TX
In Austin, Texas, the SAI tutoring program is offered in three elementary schools – McBee, Allison and Bagdad. A pool of 20 Sai volunteers, including high school students, not only tutor the students in academic subjects but also run a robotics club twice a week, encouraging the students to participate in robotics competition and win awards. They also support students in their Science Fair endeavors and Human Values competition. The plan is to recruit more Spanish- speaking tutors in future to meet the needs of the students.
Tutoring for Somalian refugees, Des Moines, IA
In Des Moines, Iowa, the SAI tutoring program caters to children of Somalian refugees. Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students, aged 15 and older, and a few adult Sai volunteers used to meet every weekend to help Somalian students ranging from 2nd grade to high school with academic subjects such as Math and English. However, with the advent of COVID, the program faced challenges, which has resulted in a plan to move the program to a virtual platform.
Breakout Room Sessions
One of the highlights of the summit was a breakout session. Each of the breakout rooms was given one of five real-life scenarios. Each scenario dealt with starting up a tutoring program under various set of circumstances: (i) a food desert where access to healthy food is limited; (ii) working with refugee families; (iii) addressing post-pandemic learning loss (iv) starting a spinoff program in a lower income and under-resourced area; and (v) working through language barriers. The groups were tasked with addressing three main goals: (a) designing and starting a program; (b) implementation of curriculum and classroom management; (c) team building and sustainability. The post summit reflections showed that this exercise was effective in helping the participants think deeply about what it takes to build a strong tutoring program.
Fireside Chat with School Officials
The highlight of the summit was a ‘fireside chat,’ with the heads of two different schools. Mr. Brian White, Director, Student and Parent Support Groups, at the Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) and former Principal of Fairview and Southgate Elementary Schools, wholeheartedly agreed that the tutoring program had a great impact on the academic progress of the children. Mr. White expressed his gratitude for the time, commitment, resources, and dedication of the volunteers, in particular, the high school volunteers who serve as role models for the children. Likewise, Mr. David Huppert, Principal, Lorin Eden Elementary School affirmed that the program and the volunteers were a “gift to the community,” by bringing their care and dedication in working with the students.
The SAI Tutoring Summit was intended to be the start of a national conversation on how members of Sri Sathya Sai Centers can better serve the educational needs of their community. Hearing about the variety of tutoring programs that have been implemented and listening to public school administrators share about the success of their partnerships with Sai tutors enriched that conversation. However, implicit in this conversation was a call to action to create more such programs throughout the U.S. To this end, there are plans for more summits to address specific issues such as those raised in the breakout rooms and in the Q&A session. Swami says that “The end of Education is Character” and SAI tutoring, with its emphasis on providing quality mentoring and modeling, has shown to be an effective vehicle for improving educational equity and opportunity in the communities where these programs are currently operating.