It’s a cold winter day in Price Hill. Children hurry to their classes, the bell rings, and the St. Lawrence Elementary school day begins like most others do. Today, though, is special as Jack Reuter and classmates, Nate Steiner and Luke Wilmink, visit the school. The boys are students from Elder High School, located just a half a mile away. As part of a community service class, the boys make the short trek over to St. Lawrence twice a week to serve as tutors for the grade school children.
Jack, a senior at Elder, began tutoring at St. Lawrence in August. “We go to grade schools around the westside… a lot of them CISE schools. I work here at St. Lawrence with the kindergarten class, and I have a blast helping them out!” Elder junior, Nate, adds, “It’s kind of fun, it’s nice being able to get to leave school and not have an actual class.”
The Director of Campus Ministry at Elder High School, Al Kovacic, admits that some students take the class as an easy grade and a way to leave the campus, but most discover that it‘s a meaningful experience. Kovacic shares, “I would hope that Elder students expand their world a bit and see life through the eyes of others who may not be like them.”
This semester the Elder boys are working with kindergarten and third grade students, about 90 children in total. They help the children with math and reading, focusing on students who need a little extra help. Often, the children will learn through playing games with their high school buddies. Luke, also a senior, comments, “Some [kids] aren’t as interested [in learning] as others, that’s why the games help… sometimes they don’t even realize they are learning when we play.”
St. Lawrence Principal Jen Long speaks enthusiastically about the mutual benefits of this partnership. “Our children not only get additional one-on-one help from the boys, but it also gives them something to look forward to. For some of our younger boys, it is their first encounter with what Elder High School is and that they can possibly go there someday. It also gives them a positive role model for how to help others.” Elder tutor, Luke, has experienced the reward of this work, “It’s a good feeling to know that the kids look forward to me coming to help them out.”
Jeydi is a third-grade student who works with the Elder students on math and says, “I think that they help us a lot when we make a mistake on something. They especially can help us with math, because some of us struggle a lot and they help us do better.” She giggles, “They are a lot smarter than us!”
The benefits of this longtime partnership between the two Price Hill schools reaches far beyond academics. Principal Long shares how her young students help expand the understanding of the high school boys: “A lot of the boys that are coming from Elder live in the suburbs and don’t have a lot of experience with poverty or our growing Hispanic population. I think this opportunity gives them an experience to change some of the preconceived notions that they may have. In a small way, this program helps to change opinions and stereotypes in our westside community.”
When asked what the third graders have taught him, Jack Reuter smiles and responds, “First of all, they’ve taught me a lot about their culture. Obviously, a lot of the children at this school are Hispanic and being exposed to that has really showed me a lot about where they come from, about their values, about what they hold dear in their families. They’ve also shown me that it’s a responsibility for me to take stuff like this seriously… to be there for these kids, to be a good role model for them and show them how to do things the right way. Eventually, they will grow up and be in our situation so just being there for them now is important.”
Jack goes on to say, “I think we are very fortunate at Elder to have a program like this… especially for people who have a Catholic education in high school, not only to be able to help other people out, but to be able to learn something from it and figure out that there are problems we need to help solve, in education and in these kids’ lives… I definitely think it’s something that every Catholic high school should have.”
St. Lawrence Elementary is one of ten CISE (Catholic Inner-City Schools Education) Catholic elementary schools in Cincinnati. The mission of CISE is to provide a safe nurturing environment and a values-based Catholic education to inner-city youth. CISE has been around for over 40 years and currently serves 2300 students in the elementary schools.
By Debi Haines