WEST ORANGE, NJ — Seton Hall Prep students received lapel pins Tuesday, April 2, to commemorate their time working with students at Gregory and Hazel elementary schools, after each student spent one afternoon each week tutoring the younger students after school. The 68 SHP juniors and seniors have worked with students in second through fifth grades on their homework, acting as teachers themselves instead of students. This year’s program began in November and will continue through the end of the school year.
“It gives them a sense of what it is to teach,” SHP Academic Dean Kevin McNulty said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “You’re going to sit down and make that connection with a student. You can do that with one or two students, which you can’t always do with a classroom of 20 students. And it’s a great way to work with the community and fill a need that’s there.”
SHP works with the West Orange Rotary Club and the West Orange African Heritage Organization, sending students to tutor alongside the organization’s members at Hazel and Gregory. John Pascal, an English teacher at SHP, has been running the program for the last seven years.
“It’s a privilege,” Pascal said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “You see their good and their humor when working with the kids.”
The SHP students volunteer for the program and Pascal said this year’s group of 68 has been the biggest yet. Ryan Spezzacatena, a junior, said his favorite part of being at Hazel every week is working with the same students.
“I love going over and helping a kid every week,” Spezzacatena said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We form a bond and it’s very rewarding to see him enjoy me being there.”
Hazel Principal William Kochis agreed, saying in an email to the Chronicle on April 4 that students were asking about the SHP tutors at the beginning of the school year.
“They not only help with academics, but they build relationships with the students. The SHP students are viewed as positive role models to many of the students they tutor,” he said. “During one of the first weeks of school, a student came up to me and excitedly asked, ‘When will I see my tutor this year?’”
Makeida Estupinan, the principal at Gregory, said the program has worked well at her school, too.
“The tutors support the students in their core subjects of English language arts and mathematics,” she said in an email to the Chronicle on April 5. “They truly enjoy working with their tutors and look at them as role models.”
Michael Salmon, an SHP senior who has been tutoring at Gregory, said he participated in a similar program at his middle school in Newark, which made him volunteer to tutor at SHP.
“I used to do the same thing and I saw that it worked,” Salmon said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “You can really see their growth in such a short amount of time.”
Pascal said the tutors work with the students on their homework and focus on the subjects they need extra help with, allowing the tutors to see the progress the elementary students make during the course of the year.
“If they need help in special areas they can help with that,” he said. “I tell the tutors, ‘Those children will bond with you. They see you and to them that’s Seton Hall Prep, so you can’t let them down.’”
SHP senior Eric Camacho said that he wanted to tutor at Gregory because he related to the children he works with each week.
“I had ADHD and went through that, so I wanted to work with them,” Camacho said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “So in the hour we have, it’s great to see the bond that we build.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic and Courtesy of Richard Morris