As an educational reinforcement center, Safe Passage is focused on giving students the opportunity to attend school and the resources they need to succeed there. Public schools in Guatemala only run for half the day and primarily use rote memorization to teach their large classes. In a class of 50 students, it is easy for a first grader who cannot read to go unnoticed.

Safe Passage strives to give these children the attention they need, but with kids from up to 12 different schools in some classrooms, sometimes they need a little extra help. That’s where the tutoring program and volunteer Mac Philips come in. The Chicago native began his stint at Safe Passage as a first grade classroom assistant in July 2011. After observing that several of his students had spent a year in first grade without learning how to read, he decided to do something about it. He says the problem is that, “some kids get behind and don’t have the resources or ability to catch up on their own.”

Mac spent all of February and March in the classrooms trying to get a good feel for which students could benefit most from tutoring. The kids were selected through classroom observations and speaking with teachers and classroom volunteers.Most are in first or seventh grade. From the outset, Mac was asked to focus on these ages by the administration. First grade is a critical time, as this might be the first time a child is ever in a classroom setting and they are being introduced to basic phonics and arithmetic. Seventh grade is the big step after finishing primary school and the young teens are faced with more homework than ever before. In offering tutoring to kids at these levels we hope to offer them the support they need to be successful.

When asked about the best part about starting this program, Mac says it has been, “Seeing kids who couldn’t recognize more than 3 letters when I started with them now being able to read fluently.” Conversely, he says that the hardest part has been working with the teenagers. “Getting them to focus on their studies and helping them realize that going to class, doing their homework, and keeping at it is just as important all of the other things that teenagers deem important has been the biggest challenge,” continues Mac.

Fabiola, a 5th grade student, began working with Mac with a few of her peers after having failed 4 subjects last quarter. After focusing on a variety of math topics in her tutoring sessions she happily reports that this quarter she passed math! First grader, Heidi Rubi, started working with Mac upon matriculating at Safe Passage. She says, “Each day first I write my first name and then I write my last name, then we read, do addition, and subtraction.” Her favorite part of
tutoring is when they play games!

In the future we hope to develop the program further so that more kids at Safe Passage can receive individual attention and further develop basic literacy and math skills to help make them more self-sufficient. If you think you or someone you know would be interested in becoming a tutor at Safe Passage please contact us (information below). The main requirements are that the person must enjoy working with kids, must be able to control a class of maximum 3 students, and must have an intermediate- to-advanced level of Spanish. A modest housing allowance will be available to those who make a commitment of 6 months or more. Please see www.safepassage.org/volunteers for information on how to apply. With questions about the volunteer program, please write to volunteers@safepassage.org. With questions specifically regarding tutoring, please write to tutor.reforzamiento@safepassage.org.