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A Volunteer's Story: An Interview with Jeff Eder

Volunteers are an important part of the equation at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School. Working as tutors and sometimes as counselors, volunteers help the non-profit arm of the school, Comprehensive Development, Inc. (CDI), provide the largest school-based tutoring site in New York. NOW spoke with long-time volunteer Jeff Eder about his experience working with students. Eder emphasized, "I think the key to student success is hard work, determination, confidence and encouragement." Read NOW's interview with Jeff Eder below to find out how volunteers help foster these important qualities.

Q: How did you first hear about Manhattan Comprehensive and how did you become involved as a volunteer?

I was a volunteer tutor at a GED program on the west side of Manhattan in the spring of 2002. However, the school where I was tutoring was going to be closed for the summer. Not wanting to wait until the fall to start tutoring again, I asked Learning Leaders if they knew of another school that I could start working with and they put me in touch with Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School. I've been tutoring there ever since.

Q: How is the volunteering program at Manhattan Comprehensive structured?

Volunteers at Manhattan Comprehensive can do a number of things to help out the school and the students, but the main work done by volunteers is academic tutoring. With a focus on helping students get a better grasp on the curriculum taught to them in their classes, and emphasizing the skills and test taking techniques necessary to prepare for the Regents exams, many volunteers spend their time tutoring students in English, Math, Science and History.

A tutor may help a student with a homework assignment or preparing for an exam (in one or multiple subjects). Some tutors are experts in a particular subject/field due to their education or work experience and therefore tutor in a subject where they feel they can make the biggest impact. Other tutors are generalists and will work with students in a number of academic areas. The amount of time tutors spend with their students can also vary. Some tutors spend one hour a week with students, while others spend several hours (sometimes over the course of a week) working with their students.

Other than academic tutoring, another type of counseling that often takes place between students and tutors is the result of a trust and understanding that evolves out of the tutoring process. The bond I am referring to could simply be labeled as a friendship. There is an inherent curiosity among the students at Manhattan Comprehensive that pushes them to learn about everything (academic subjects, social science, travel, sports — you name it, they want to know about it). Accordingly, the issues discussed with a tutor may sometimes veer slightly from academic subjects as students want to know about what they have to look forward to once they earn their degree, go to college and start in the "real" world. At the same time, tutors may also be interested in hearing about the student's background and their thoughts about the world they live in. As a result of this shared inquisitiveness, a friendship is formed that allows tutors to mentor students through the bumps in the road they may face (both academically and in daily life as a part of wider society) and also allows tutors to see things from the student's perspective.

Q: What is your personal contribution as a volunteer?

My volunteering time at Manhattan Comp is spent tutoring two to three students on a regular basis — once a week for about an hour each. I usually tutor my students in Math, but have also helped them with English and History assignments. In addition to the students I tutor on a regular basis, I help students who come to the Student Life Center or library during walk-in tutoring hours. I also work with many of the students employed by the Student Life Center, helping them develop their résumés.

I am also actively involved in the process for enhancing the tutoring program itself. In the beginning of 2004 I was asked to join Manhattan Comp's Tutor Advisory Committee (TAC) as the tutor representative. TAC is comprised of staff from the Student Life Center at MCNDHS, a handful of teachers and myself. Our goal is to improve the effectiveness of the tutoring program at Manhattan Comp by strengthening the way in which tutors, teachers and students communicate with one another and document the student assignments and goals as they are being tutored.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you have seen Manhattan Comprehensive students facing? Are they different from the challenges facing other high school students in America?

There are many challenges that students at Manhattan Comp face and some of those challenges are different from the challenges that other high school students in America face, but you will also find across the country that there are many schools with students who face the same challenges. However, what makes Manhattan Comprehensive unique is its ability to meet the challenges their students face by offering a high school education combined with other services (from the Student Life Center) to a population of students who are at a crucial point in their lives. Usually between the ages of 18-21, Manhattan Comp students are on the verge of entering an important part of their lives and need assistance beyond just passing their classes; they have the rest of their life to pull together in a short amount of time.

Circumstances that are often considered special could be called the norm at Manhattan Comprehensive. A few examples come to mind that help describe this situation including: students' ability to speak, read and write in English; the stress that comes along with trying to survive financially while attending school full-time; and the confusion that sometimes arises when students try to figure out what are the best options for pursuing academic and employment opportunities. For any of these three examples, what is frequently missing that would assist students is a strong background in the U.S. educational system, resources for financial support and an advocate/advisor to guide the student through the process of navigating through society — going to college, finding a job and living their lives after they graduate high school. Manhattan Comp accommodates these circumstances by offering an ESL curriculum, connecting students to health care and other services, helping students find employment and counsel them on applying for college.

Q: Do you have any advice for those who want to start volunteering as a tutor at this or any other school?

My advice to those people who want to volunteer is simple: become a volunteer tutor today! Aspiring volunteers are in high demand at Manhattan Comprehensive, throughout New York City and across the country. Such a demand may sometimes seem to benefit only those who get tutored, but those who tutor also benefit greatly. If you are lucky enough to already be tutoring a high school student then I think the key for them to get the most of their time with you is for you to simply listen to them. You'll find that their ideas, frustrations and dreams are not much different from your own.

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