The Literacy Center: An Inside Look

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The Literacy Center: An Inside Look

By Fatima Farha

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A dark-haired girl sits next to a nervous-looking freshman, who spins his eyes around the room, attempting to make sense of the hustle and bustle. There are students following a teacher around, trying to catch her attention so she can sign their… netbook? Some people are simply sitting and having a very funny conversation; the sound of laughter resonates throughout the room. Others are in deep concentration, attempting to solve a complex math problem or wondering how to analyze a certain text in a novel for a paper.

It’s his first time in the Literacy Center, and he isn’t sure why he is even there. Overwhelmed by the dynamic atmosphere, he hopes his tutor will be cooperative. Suddenly, his tutor diverts his attention from his surroundings and asks him what his name is, warmly introducing herself as well. She further asks him what he wishes to be helped in, and he quickly responds to her inquiry.

He slowly begins to feel more comfortable as his tutor helps him through his work, occasionally smiling at his accomplishments, encouraging him and praising him on his progress. As his tutoring session comes to an end, he feels more confident about his work. Leaving the Lit. Center, this once-nervous freshman has a radiant smile on his face, bidding a “thank you” and “goodbye” to his tutor and leaving a place to which he will surely return.

The students and teachers in the Literacy Center carry on with their work. A tutor volunteers to assist another student who has just arrived, while numerous other tutors are conversing with their tutees. The enthusiasm does not die down. There is no stifling silence. Various other students keep coming in, and each leaves with a new piece of knowledge.

The Literacy Center is an institution on its own, full of students and teachers with one specific goal: to make sure a person in need of help gets it. With this simple mission, the Lit. Center serves as a supportive community that provides students with the assistance they need in various subjects. The Center is made up of student tutors who have been efficiently trained to take on the responsibility of tutoring other students who need help with critical thinking, writing or reading. There are tutors available every period of every day as well as before and after school, always ready to raise their hand to tutor a student who comes in. Many teachers also take part in tutoring students who may need extra help.

“Truthfully, oh my God. I think it’s great. To me, it’s the best place in the world. When I tell people where I work, they think it’s so cool. Students come in here for help and they don’t even have to pay! I actually look forward to coming to work, and that’s what we all want, to love our job,” said administrative assistant Kelly Adamovic with her usual cheerfulness and enthusiasm that resonates throughout the room, making it all the more welcoming. Adamovic works at the front desk of the Lit. Center, and her bright and smiling face is the first people see upon entrance, reassuring them that the Lit. Center is a completely safe environment.

The Lit. Center is currently in its eighth year. Before 2005, the only places the school had for students who needed extra help were the Math and Science Resource Center, the Reading Center, and the Writing Center. However, these resources weren’t being used by many of the students.  Due to concerns as to how students would get the assistance they need, many teachers thought there should be a more effective means of providing academic support. Lit. Center coordinator and English teacher Andrew Jeter was one of those teachers. Jeter and a couple other teachers took a tour of the Literacy Center at Naperville North High School. According to Jeter, the idea was deemed absolutely wonderful, and they designed it between 2004 and 2005.

In its first year, the Literacy Center was received 5,200 visitors when it was located where the Testing Center is today. Obviously, it was too small, considering the fact that the Center was steadily expanding. The Lit. Center was then moved to what used to be the English office. By year two, the number of visits rose exponentially, reflecting the high quality of the Lit. Center tutors. There were 140 tutors and 21,900 visits that year.

The Literacy Center has experienced extraordinary growth in its last eight years of being a phenomenal program. In 2011, it was the largest peer tutoring program in the world. On average, there are 30,000 visits each year and more than 200 tutors. Even though the Lit. Center had to cut back on tutors due to a shortage of teachers, it still maintained second place. The center graduated 800 tutors and was the first high school to host the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) from Nov. 2-4.

The Lit. Center in its first year

Jeter is extremely proud of his accomplishments. When asking him about the Lit. Center, he simply could not stop describing the beautiful aspects of this program. As a secondary representative for the Writing Center, he has been to many schools and has seen many different organizations, but nothing measured up to the Lit. Center: “The Lit. Center sets Niles West apart on a global scale. What we have here is unique not just for its size, but its quality. The key to learning is collaborative learning, and that is what the Lit. Center provides. I am flabbergasted by the students and their enthusiasm, by how extraordinary they are,” Jeter said.

Senior Brandon Moy calls the Lit. Center his home.

“I was so intimidated  freshman and sophomore years, but then junior year I took this place, and I never went back. I’ll really miss this place,” he said.

Teachers and students who are associated with the Lit. Center understand what an amazing place it is and a very influential center if properly utilized. Math teacher Andrew Roche finds the Lit. Center to be very useful for the students who “use it in a serious and responsible way, but if others come with the wrong attitude, they won’t get that.” He has no doubt that the Lit. Center is very helpful, and he actually encourages all students to walk in through those doors whenever they can no longer get assistance from a teacher or fellow classmates.

It is simply peer tutoring that makes the Lit. Center truly effective. Having a conference with a teacher in order to gain assistance can sometimes be helpful, but other times it can be difficult and overwhelming. The focus of the Lit. Center is to provide an alternative to that. Its main goal is to give students the chance to have a light  and easygoing conversation with another student because it leads to a more comfortable environment and better understanding of whatever subject the tutee is struggling with. It allows students to come in as many times as they want during their free periods to have a conversation with a tutor, maybe rant a bit about life and school, while getting support for material that they simply do not understand or are having a difficult time with. There is never a tutor not willing to provide assistance.

English teacher Lia Sosa agrees that the major advantage of the Lit. Center is the fact that it’s students helping students.

“I wish I had this place in high school. My first three years in math were bad… if I had a student to talk to.. it would have been great,” said Sosa. “I absolutely see improvement in them [students] if they go to the right people,” Sosa said.

Junior Marie Chemmachel, a first-year tutor, agrees with Sosa.

“It’s [the Lit. Center] pretty good. It’s a good place to come, and I feel they’ll [the students] be more comfortable with other students. I like helping them, and the teachers here are very nice and helpful. Ms. Adamovic and Mr. Jeter are always happy.”

Students who come to the Lit. Center to be tutored find it an engaging and interesting experience as well. Some agree that it was intimidating at first, but it got better with more visits.

“The Lit. Center helps. The tutors are good people. I used to be scared of them, but now they’re okay. They’re nice and friendly,” said sophomore Karoline Nissan.

Tutors are chosen through teacher recommendations and personal interviews. If this person is chosen to be a tutor, he or she has to attend a mandatory tutor training in August, right before school starts, in order to learn to tutor effectively. Returning tutors are required to write an essay along with having an interview towards the end of the school year. Almost anyone can be a tutor; it just requires responsibility, commitment and diligence.

These welcoming doors smack in the middle of the Hall of Honor are always open. Just come on in.