Prepsters Offer Assistance at OLS

When the bell rings at 2:45, the corridors at Seton Hall take on a distinct nature. Throngs of students, freed from the day’s work and entranced by their own chatter, course the halls with quickened gaits and disjointed pathways, giving a type of frenzied lifeblood to all floors. The warm, lively air says it all: back to the trains and back to the buses. However, stand still on a Thursday afternoon and you might back encounter a small undercurrent beneath the bulk of the after-hours rush. Some students are heading to Mr. Pascal’s room. Every Thursday, Prepsters from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes convene here to prepare for tutoring sessions at Our Lady of Sorrows School in South Orange. The mood is a jovial one: In twenty minutes, students will head out to assist elementary and middle-school-aged children four miles down the road.

Each week twenty to thirty of The Prep’s finest visit this nearby Catholic academy to aid their younger charges in homework skills. Everything from arithmetic packets to vocabulary worksheets falls under the watchful oversight of a tutor, who is assigned to work with an individual child from 3:30 to 4:30. While some Prepsters drive themselves, most receive a lift from Mr. Pascal, which leaves from the upper lot following an attendance check. The actual service lasts around an hour, although students receive two to compensate for the bookended travel times. Outside Our Lady of Sorrows, an imposing Gothic church stands across the parking lot, seemingly lending a moral weight to the presence of our visits. Prep students shuffle into the school through a side door and climb the stairs where a veritable “staging area” awaits. This moment is perhaps the most important of the tutoring process; here, crowded together, Prepsters first come in contact with their assigned pupil. As the tutors stand in the hall, a faculty member summons the children within an adjacent classroom, calling out different grades in succession.

Long-serving tutors are almost always met with recognition when the flow of children commences. After crossing the threshold of the door, the youngest will pick out a familiar face from the week prior, keen to lead their older friend around the green-tiled environs. Once Prepster and tutee are ensconced in a particular section of the building, the real task begins. All students sit at the same low-standing desks and speak one-on-one with each other, tutor-to-pupil. This arrangement helps reduce the “intimidating” aura every high schooler exudes in the company of a smaller child. Establishing a sense of rapport may be difficult at first, but the knowledge that tutors are “getting down to a child’s level” sows a seed a trust into the process. In this light, tutors must guide students to the right answers on homework, not merely hand out the correct response. Miniature incentives such as a walk around the room or a high-five motivate more greatly than harsh words of warning. 

 Unlike other service opportunities, Thursdays at OLS provide the gratification that comes with proactively shaping another person’s future. Working in the field with the most receptive audience of all creates the type of internal payoff so elusive to rote volunteerism. Likewise, the off-site nature of the activity becomes a separate outlet divorced from the rigors of a college-prep curriculum. Tucked away on a valley slope, the quiet brick school has been extremely welcoming of The Prep’s overture, according to Mr. Pascal. Parents have remarked how effective the program is to heightening their child’s work ethic and productivity. OLS’ principal, Judy Foley, also sees a growing connection between her building and that of Seton Hall Prep, just minutes away. With the tutors imparting study skills useful for entrance exams, she hopes to see many of her male students matriculate directly into The Prep. Student volunteers, meanwhile, gain the added credit of academic leadership, the whole of which may translate to those entering our peer mentoring program. 

Seton Hall carries a large stick within the context of the West Orange area. By sojourning in the community to offer free tutoring, our school counters the perception of a monolithic organization perched upon First Mountain.