IU South Bend’s Indiana University Student Success Corps (IUSSC) program (formerly known as the statewide program Indiana Kids) was recently selected to receive The Women of IU South Bend grant. For Dr. Virginia Heidemann, Director of the Academic Centers for Excellence (ACE) and IUSSC Coordinator, the grant was a lifeline after state funding cuts and the pandemic threatened to derail a successful five-year program.
IUSSC enables IU South Bend student tutors to work with community partners to assist area high school and middle school students with schoolwork including Math, Science, English, Social Studies, History, French and Spanish. Since 2015, the program has worked with partners including other IU campuses, the South Bend Community School Corporation, 21st Century Learning Centers, Baugo Schools, Transformation Ministries, the South Bend Cubs, Penn-Harris Schools, Mishawaka Schools, and the South Bend LGBTQ Center. The program is a community outreach aspect to IU South Bend’s ACE program.
“It is a logical extension of what ACE does because we provide tutors who are already college students, so it’s a great way to show kids what they could achieve; it’s a great way to encourage them,” Heidemann said. “They become role models and mentors just by virtue of being there to help.”
The mission of ACE is to provide middle, high school, and college students the opportunity to develop the skills necessary for academic success within safe and inclusive learning environments, Heidemann said. ACE collaborates with community organizations, staff, students and faculty to provide tutoring and mentoring services designed to assist students in mastering content, developing study skills and strategies, and building confidence and self-determination.
The original Indiana Kids program had been started about five years ago with funding through SERVE Indiana state grants and had served children throughout the state through IU Bloomington and the regional campuses. IU South Bend had provided more than 40 percent of student tutoring among all the campuses. But the funding was cut in October of last year.
“We have definitely been pulling our weight with the program,” Heidemann said. “We had built such a strong foundation of including training and establishing policies and procedures that we didn’t want to let it go.”
While IU South Bend and IU Purdue University Indianapolis programs have been applying for future funding for IUSSC, the program was running out of funds even while middle and high school students in the area were attending tutoring virtually during the pandemic with a partnership with South Bend’s Transformation Ministries and Baugo Schools.
For Karen West, Director of Academic Empowerment at Transformation Ministries, the partnership with IU South Bend’s Indiana Kids program was critical to its Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI) flagship program of the non-profit, faith-based leadership/mentorship organization that serves more than 70 middle and high school students in the city’s near northwest neighborhoods.
“We strongly believe that ISI students are the future leaders of our community,” West said. “ISI not only recognizes a student’s potential but commits to investing and connecting students to needed resources and opportunity. Because of this belief, in 2019 ISI expanded its academic support services. During this expansion, partnerships were developed within the community to promote academic excellence. One of those vital partnerships was with Virginia Heidemann and the Indiana Kids Grant.”
ISI’s benchmark for student success is a GPA of 2.5 or higher, so they needed quality tutors to help, West said.
“The Indiana Kids Grant along with other community volunteers helped make this goal attainable for our deserving students,” she said. “Each tutor within the Indiana Kids Grant program has provided quality tutoring services in every subject and has built great relationships with the students they work with. Our students look forward to working with them and have made great academic strides with the one-on-one tutoring attention they receive.”
In a survey at the end of 2020, more than 90 percent of students reported increases in their skills, including in Math, Social Studies, English, and Science.
Heidemann notes that the program doesn’t just help the middle and high school students, it helps the tutors themselves. The IU South Bend student tutors get comprehensive training—such as in effective communications, diversity and inclusion, and student confidentiality. Tutors are trained to help seek out where students might be stumbling and how to encourage them toward success. The experience for the ACE tutors also enhances their résumés, enables them to make contacts with teachers and administrators in area schools and community organizers, and develops their leadership skills.
“Anything that helps students come into their own, anything that helps students learn and gain an appreciation for learning and enjoy it, that’s my calling in life,” Heidemann said. “To me, tutoring in the community is a logical extension of what ACE provides to college students. It’s a great way to encourage and help student tutors, in part by getting that same gratification of helping someone and then the light bulb goes on.”
One of the six tutors this spring, Catherine Vaerewyck, has been with the program for several years. She said she enjoys working with the kids: “I love seeing students understand material that they were struggling with and gain confidence as they see how much their hard work pays off…I keep coming back because I really enjoy working with the students. Plus, I have the opportunity to talk about subjects that I am passionate about as well as learn new topics when the students have work in material that I might not have a lot of experience with.”
Caitlin Schulz, another tutor, likes that tutoring gives students yet another chance to be successful. “Without this opportunity, they might turn in a halfway completed assignment or give up entirely,” she said. “Sometimes I’m able to explain a topic from a different perspective, and it’s rewarding to see a student have a much better grasp of the homework material by the end of a tutoring session. Kids need this kind of support and mentorship in their lives.”
One of the students who had participated in tutoring reported: “I used to think I couldn’t do it, but ever since she became my tutor, I have had faith in myself.”
That faith in themselves is one of the major benefits of the program, Heidemann said. “We help strengthen academic, life skills, and college readiness of middle and high school students in our region.”
In addition, the program helps boost the visibility of IU South Bend in the region and demonstrates its commitment to the community.
Heidemann cited one tutor’s comment about the joy of seeing a sixth grader see herself doing similar work as the tutor’s master’s-level homework as a “job that is a gift.”
“The idea that having a conversation with somebody and maybe getting to the point where you’re helping them with a skill and knowing how to be successful—it changes you inside,” Heidemann said. “You know that, to me, is the gift that we are able to provide—to enable that kind of employment and that kind of service.”