Student tutoring program enters final semester

Through GEAR UP, Temple students have worked with students in city schools since 2017.

Kayla Mercado (left), a tutor with Gear Up, works on geometry assignments with Thomas Edison High School students on Jan. 24. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

One day, as Hannah Anderson was walking out of Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School, a group of students she had tutored the previous semester ran up to her. 

The students told Anderson, a senior neuroscience major and coach in Temple’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, that she was a reason why they came to school every day. 

“When I heard that, I truly almost started crying,” Anderson said. “I was hoping to make an impact on students, but that instance really showed me the significance of our work.” 

Temple’s participation in GEAR UP, a college-preparatory program for local students funded by the federal government, is set to end this semester as the program’s seven-year grant runs out, said Patience Lehrman, interim director of Temple’s Center for Professional Development in Career and Technical Education.  

Temple has sent tutors to six local high schools since it joined the program in 2017, said J.T. Kendall, the program manager at Temple’s Intergenerational Center, which runs GEAR UP. 

The Philadelphia Network of Higher Education for Neighborhood Development, a consortium of more than 30 colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area, and the School District of Philadelphia collaborated on the grant, according to PHENND’s website. Six Philadelphia-based universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, work in 54 secondary schools through the program.  

Temple tutors work in Frankford High School, Thomas A. Edison High School, Benjamin Franklin High School, Penn Treaty School, Kensington High School and Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School, Kendall said. 

While GEAR UP cannot be automatically renewed by the district, the school district could apply for a new grant to allow the program to continue, though the process could take years, Kendall said. 

To become tutors, Temple students were required to complete an application, receive clearances from the university and attend mandatory trainings and orientations, Kendall added. 

Kayla Mercado, a junior nursing major, is a tutor at Thomas Edison High School. A two-year member of GEAR UP, she spends five to 15 hours a week sitting in the back of Surine Sobrinsky’s geometry class, answering students’ questions, she said. 

Being a first-generation college student helped Mercado connect with the students at Edison, she added. 

“Just being able to say that I too am one allows a connection to be made, so they’re easier to trust with the college process,” Mercado said. “Just knowing that there’s someone else who’s in their shoes who’s in college now, just being able to see that as an approachable dream.” 

Mercado often works one-on-one with students to answer quick questions and provide specialized help to those who are struggling, Sobrinsky said. 

“They tend to ask her first before me,” he said. 

Marci Monaco-Vavrik, a senior sociology and human development and community engagement major, has been a GEAR UP tutor for three years, assisting a social studies teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School in addition to being a member of the GEAR UP program committee, which provides additional support for the program’s coaches and mentees, she wrote in an email to The Temple News.  

“It was so heartwarming to see the student’s excitement and curiosity about college,” Monaco-Vavrik wrote. “It reminded me that, besides their teachers, I might be the only person they know who went to college, and reaffirmed why I joined GEAR UP in the first place.” 

Melrose Patton, a secondary English education major who tutored in a math class at Edison, used the free time she had with students to talk to them about their lives outside of school, she wrote in an email to The Temple News. 

“That is how they will respond to you,” Patton wrote. 

The Intergenerational Center is working to develop a program in which Temple students help high school seniors, who were in GEAR UP and commit to Temple, transition before their first semester, Kendall said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story included a photograph that was not approved by the Philadelphia School District. The photo has been corrected.

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