YES House volunteers mentor students of Humboldt

By Hector Arzate
Flapjack staff

While most students at Humboldt State University are in class, learning at two in the afternoon on weekdays, volunteers for Study Buddies can be found doing some of the teaching at local schools in Humboldt county.

Study Buddies, formerly known as Tutorial, is one of 15 volunteer programs at the Youth Educational Services. Each of these programs serves a different community population in Humboldt County.

Started in 1969, Study Buddies is the oldest volunteer program at HSU, and provides youth tutoring and mentoring for local elementary school students around Arcata and Eureka. Jorge Reyes, 20, criminology and justice studies major, serves as the current program director and works to keep it running effectively.

“I facilitate the weekly meetings and workshop at the YES House on Thursday evenings from 6-7pm,” Reyes said. “I tend to keep my meetings structured informally because I want HSU student volunteers to engage in a comfortable setting that would translate into the close bond that we share with each other as volunteers of the community.” 

Originally a volunteer for a different program, Reyes’ intent was to complete the service learning component of a class three semesters ago, but he found more than academic credit at YES.

“I joined Study Buddies last semester to build my mentoring and tutoring skills with young, local elementary school students in Arcata and Eureka,” Reyes said. “I didn’t realize my path would lead me to where I am today as director for Study Buddies.”

As program director, Reyes describes Study Buddies’ service as an effort to provide those local students who are least likely to afford tutoring services with tutors who focus on the their needs to promote a healthy confidence boost in their learning experience.

“Getting involved with the Y.E.S. House and becoming a club director have amplified the activist sentiment to replacing old, worn out class materials and expanding select schools that we currently provide tutoring services,” Reyes said. “I am grateful for the dedicated volunteers that I currently have with me this semester because we share a common goal together here, and I am humbled to be a director for the longest active club at Y.E.S. The message has echoed for nearly 50 years now, and we are here to continue that echo for the future ahead.”

The experience has been equally rewarding for the program volunteers. Emily Policarpo, 20, anthropology major, felt that she has been able to provide a well-rounded educational experience for a range of the local youth.

“Study Buddies is able to offer different schools and age groups, from 4 to 12,” Policarpo said. “The majority of the focus is on homework days and tutoring, but there are also science Fridays where volunteers can come up with science activities to do with the kids.”

With low literacy and graduation rates throughout Humboldt County, it’s an important resource for the local community. Reyes expressed the deep impacts that access to education, or a lack thereof, can have on the youth and their future.

“Education is a crucial deal breaker for survival, for several reasons,” Reyes said. “For starters, we can at least acknowledge and agree that our level of knowledge depends on the quality of education that we receive. Brand new textbooks, safe classrooms, caring teachers, tutoring services, technological devices that are the newest up-to-date products the market has to offer for educational purposes. You’d imagine that a student’s possibility to fail would be slim and even if they did, the tutoring program would essentially provide a safety net for the student to bounce back from receiving a bad grade.”

However, Reyes also expressed that this is not the reality for most public schools, especially those within poor and rural communities like Humboldt County. Instead, they most often have little to no access to those resources.

“Now picture the opposite of what I described,” Reyes said. “Torn and used up textbooks, classrooms that are potential health hazards to children, careless teachers, no tutoring services, and technology devices that are older than the children themselves. This is the sour reality that many adults and youth have lived and continue to experience when attending schools in their local community.”

For student volunteers like Demi Cortez, 20, social work major, understanding systemic oppression and a generational lack of access to academic resources is crucial for being an effective tutor.

“He [Reyes] also breaks down ideas really well so that we can all understand them with a deeper meaning,” Cortez said. “For example, he once broke us up into two groups and had us each read a children’s story and then make an illustration that we thought captured the theme. Though most of us didn’t notice, one group was always at a disadvantage, their book was worn out, their paper was torn, they had less coloring supplies, etc. He then pointed out how these little things affected that group’s performance level, much like the way kids are affected when they attend an underprivileged school. I think that was much more effective than if he were to have just told us that some kids have it worse than others.”

Despite the disadvantages their students face, volunteers feel motivated to continue working with the children and making a difference. Under Reyes’ leadership, Study Buddies volunteers continue to draw inspiration from his enthusiasm for social change and education.

“He cares so much about it and his passion is contagious,” Cortez said. “All of the activities and group exercises are so well thought out, you really see how much effort he puts into them. It makes us all care too.”

Above all, Reyes feels that we all should work to change the narrative and change the lives of those students by working with them to find academic autonomy and encouragement from their community and within.

“Knowledge is power,” Reyes said. “We want these young local students to know that we are here for them. We care for their potential to reach academic success and we will continue to encourage them to solve homework problems and grow self-confidence… one fraction problem at a time.”

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