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  • Writer's pictureEric Young

A Semester of Tutoring at Durham Literacy Center

The Durham Literacy Center is the leading independent organization dedicated to providing free literacy services to adults and out-of-school youth in Durham County.

For this past semester I have been volunteering at the Durham Literacy Center (DLC) as a math and science tutor. I chose to volunteer at this site because I particularly enjoy working with older students (ages 16-24 in this case). This past summer I worked at an educational firm (see my post about this) as a full-time SAT instructor and one of my favorite parts of the job is being able to connect with my students, who were mostly high school juniors, and share with them my experience going through the same college preparation process a year or two ago. I strongly support DLC’s mission to create free educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth and I loved how I was able to apply my knowledge in educational psychology to benefit the Durham community around me.

"If there were a map of Durham and you had to mark where the Literacy Center is, you would use a heart, because that's what it's all about here . . . There's such love and such commitment to individuals that it's astounding to me."   — Sara Bell, DLC Adult Literacy Tutor

First Impressions

When I visited DLC for the first time I was immediately awed by its level of structure and organization. Within the two-story tall building there is a small library, computer room, food pantry, counseling rooms, and diverse classrooms. A lot of the students who come to DLC come from rougher backgrounds and by providing them easy access to food definitely boosts their learning outcomes. In addition, the library provides resources to promote learning outside of the classroom and the computer room allows students who do not have access to computers the chance to learn more about modern technology. Last but not least, the counseling system provides students directions to their next steps in life — whether it is applying to college or joining the workforce. Students at DLC most commonly prepare for either the General Educational Development (GED) tests or the HiSet exam, which are standardized exams that help students earn a state-issued high school equivalency diploma.

My Experience

DLC provides a high level of structured support to its tutors. Unlike my previous tutoring experiences, in which I had to come up with lesson plans on my own, at the beginning of each DLC tutoring session I was handed a package including a lesson plan and its corresponding material. With the guided support, I was able to quickly adapt to teaching the GED test, which shared many similarities with the SAT. One interesting teaching strategy DLC encourages its tutors to use is software applications that can help students refresh important concepts from previous lessons. Since the GED is a comprehensive exam, it is crucial for students to remember previously learned ideas while absorbing new knowledge. These software applications can effectively cater to the individual learning curves of DLC students, showing the potential technology can help contribute to education.

Whether it was supporting the goals of the organization, discovering how implicit biases can affect teaching, or being able to apply different instructional methods to different students, I believe my tutoring experience at DLC not only allowed me to connect with the Durham community, but also allowed me to grow as a teacher and person.

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