When sophomore Eryn Gorang began riding the BioBus to tutor at Burlington Housing Authority her freshman year, she noticed that no one got off at the Cummings High School stop.

Gorang asked the director of BHA’s Leaders in Collaborative Services tutoring program about the school, located in East Burlington. With a history of high staff turnover and low test scores, Cummings had been on the verge of closing in 2006 for failing to meet progress requirements. Gorang learned that the school was also at risk for being removed as a LINCS site unless a new leader came and turned the program around.

Though Cummings underwent curriculum and staff restructuring over the course of the following years, the school still faces low student achievement levels. Such a scenario was exactly how Gorang wanted to make an impact during her time at Elon, and was able to through the Kernodle Center’s Elon Volunteers! program.

Gorang, now a human services major, started Elon majoring in strategic communications. After becoming involved with Elon Volunteers! and spending her time as a tutor for BHA, she realized her passion for helping young people succeed.

“I think my involvement in the Kernodle Center solidified to me that I was in the wrong field,” Gorang said. “All of my extracurriculars focused on human services. My heart and soul have been invested in the Kernodle Center and in Cummings High School.”

As the LINCS coordinator for Cummings, Gorang oversees almost 30 student volunteers with different majors and career plans. LINCS, one of several opportunities for Elon students to volunteer at local schools through the Kernodle Center, involves different types of tutoring methods.

Though after-school tutoring is available for students, Gorang said much of the tutoring occurs in the classroom because many students have to ride the bus home from school or have other obligations in the afternoons.

“Some kids work jobs to help out the family,” Gorang said. “A lot of parents have two, three jobs and students have to be home to babysit other kids. There’s a high dropout rate for Latinos because family is so important in the culture, they have to stay home and help the kids.”

Graduate!, a program designed to focus on 30 Latino students at-risk for dropping out of school, is another facet of LINCS that Gorang oversees. Founded by the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals, the program offers participants academic tutoring as well as life skills and parent-student interaction sessions.

Out of the three North Carolina high schools participating in Graduate!, Gorang said parents at Cummings are the least involved.

“It’s common across school in general,” Gorang said. “The PTA isn’t overly involved in the school. The parents who do show up are excited and some move around work schedules to be there. But it’s extremely sad to see that having to take place. No more than half have their parents with them.”

Since becoming the LINCS coordinator at Cummings at the beginning of the fall 2011 semester, Gorang said students in the Graduate! program have improved their grades, and very few continue to fail any classes.

“It’s extremely difficult to measure, but I definitely feel that a lot of the Cummings students feel like they don’t have stability in their lives in a lot of ways,” Gorang said. “Parents are coming in and out of their lives and things are changing a lot. Having a special tutor coming in on a regular basis is a confidence booster.”

Opportunities for working with Cummings students are not limited to education or human services majors, Gorang said. From English to business to music, teachers at the school are requesting tutors for core and elective classes.

“You don’t have to be involved in the Kernodle Center to be involved in this,” Gorang said. “Which is a shame, but you don’t have to be an avid, crazy service person who’s constantly in the Kernodle Center. People can come from any major — anywhere — and be involved in Cummings.”

Mary Leigh Frier, associate director of the Kernodle Center, said there are other opportunities for Elon students to volunteer with children and teenagers in the area. EV! Tutoring, America Reads and Lunch Buddies are in-school programs designed to help elementary school students. Volunteers can also go to after school sites to mentor and tutor children, such as The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, Positive Attitude Youth Center, the Avalon Trace Development Center for immigrant families and Burlington Housing Authority, including the “Transition to Manhood” program for young boys.

Nicki Watkins, Class of 2002, was an education major at Elon and currently teaches first grade at Grove Park Elementary in Burlington.

“These kids that the volunteers are working with are usually the kids who are struggling more,” Watkins said. “They’re not going to get it in one or two lessons, and I know that, but any extra help those students can get will benefit them.”

The Kernodle Center offers an open-door policy to school administrators seeking volunteers for ongoing and one-time needs, according to Tammy Cobb, assistant director for community partnerships. Schools can post requests throughout the academic year, and the Kernodle Center works to promote the opportunity to Elon students.

“Our Alamance County K-12 students are strongly influenced by students in higher education and oftentimes see (Elon) students as role models,” Cobb said. “While classroom support and student teaching is one way our students engage in the Alamance-Burlington school system, students also provide other kinds of support that touches on needs outside the classroom.”

Gorang said giving much of her time to be a mentor and tutor for low-income, at-risk high school students has been worthwhile, and wishes more students at Elon would become involved in local schools to understand the challenges they are facing.

“Everyone is spread thin in all different areas,” Gorang said. “There are so many needs in the school and not enough people to fill them. If I can be the person to help fill those needs, I fill like I’ve accomplished something really great.”

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