826LA helps students walk the graduation stage during the springtime Mark Twain Recovery Project

Birte Klug from our programs staff knows as well as anyone how much we value our connection to Mark Twain Middle School. Through the annual spring Mark Twain Recovery Project, 826LA tutors get to take casual tutoring one step further: they provide 8th grade students with the academic intervention they need to have their graduation ceremony privileges restored in June. Every student who enrolls with us in the yearly Mark Twain Recovery Project is committing himself or herself to spend their nights here every week. Read on to see how 826LA makes the sacrifice worth it, in Birte’s own words.

It’s 6:30 p.m., I’m tired from a long day of work. We’ve already had a flurry of students, ranging in age from 6 to 18, pass through the 826LA writing lab for a morning field trip and three hours of after-school tutoring. On a normal day, I’d be packing up to head home. But this is no normal day–it’s a Tuesday, and my ears perk up and a smile moves across my face as I hear those familiar words: “Hi, Miss.”

I’ve always liked how the 8th grade students from Mark Twain Middle School who come here in the evening call me Miss. It’s something that’s characteristic of these students, and it’s carried over through the time that 826LA and I, myself, have been working with the program.

Nicole and Jesse start planning work on a difficult astronomy assignment.

826LA and Mark Twain have partnered on the graduation project for three years now. Each spring, counselors at the school identify a group of 8th grade kids not on track to meet graduation requirements, kids whose privilege to walk the stage at graduation and receive their diploma from the principal, Dr. Rex Patton, is being revoked. But these students have a second chance: if they complete thirty or more hours of “recovery” with a community organization, they earn back the privileges they lost.

This year, 826LA decided to try something new with the program. Instead of folding these struggling students into our regular after-school program, we decided to create a special nighttime tutoring program for them, one where they would be able to receive one-on-one attention from dedicated volunteers. That way, we thought, we can impact these students on a much deeper scale and hopefully imbue them with the skills they need to succeed when they move on to high school next year.

Volunteer James Kumm has been a regular tutor with the nighttime program. “Tutoring the students enrolled in the Mark Twain Middle School Recovery Project at 826LA in Venice has been a great experience,” he wrote when I asked him for some of his thoughts. “For me, I really enjoy the sincerity from both tutor and pupil when working one-to-one. It makes teaching and learning into a much smoother and more enjoyable process. If you then add the student’s tangible goal of walking at their school’s graduation ceremony, the outcome is a group of surprisingly motivated teenagers.”

James, who was with us when we helped the very same school’s 8th grade with a Civil War project last week, continues. “Another nice aspect of nighttime tutoring is the atmosphere, which is very ‘let’s get to work’. The room is quiet, tutors and students are focused, and the two hours is packed with nonstop lessons. If you can get middle school students to focus for two straight hours, it is amazing the amount of information their minds can absorb. While the students enrolled in the Recovery Project have encountered significant academic challenges in school, everyone I worked with has displayed considerable intelligence, maturity, patience and respect. I really enjoy helping them realize that their difficulties in school are more likely the result of perspective and effort as opposed to intelligence-level or inability. Seeing their confidence and optimism climb after mastering a lesson feels great.”


Jane leans over to see what Viviana is going to be turning in for credit.

Our hope is that, once students complete their thirty hours, we won’t say goodbye to them forever. A participant in the Recovery Project’s initial year in 2010, Manny, continues to come to 826LA for help with his difficult high school honors classes, and he even helped our new volunteers prepare for this year’s project by giving them tips and tricks at a special tutor training session. I look forward to sitting in the auditorium of Mark Twain Middle School on June 18 and watching the students I’ve grown to know and love proudly walk across the stage and receive their diplomas.

Our work with Mark Twain’s 8th grade highlights the profound commitment 826LA tutors have to helping students who frequently wouldn’t be able to find or afford one-to-one relationships with adult mentors, nor helping hands with the advanced academic areas that challenge them the most. We think it’s important to change our local students’ lives for the better, and if you’d like to participate in this unique project, Birte recommends that you start by reading the information here about becoming an 826LA volunteer.


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