New tutor program at island church helps Hispanic students

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJuly 13, 2014 

Unlike most 9-year-olds, Max Alvarez can't wait to return to school this fall.

The rising fourth-grader wants his classmates and teachers to see all he has learned since school ended in June. His favorite new skill: multiplication.

"I felt like there were a lot of things I didn't know from third grade," he said. "But now I've learned them, and I feel ready for fourth grade and want to show everyone."

For the past several weeks, Alvarez has attended tutoring every Tuesday and Thursday at Holy Family Catholic Church on Hilton Head Island. The sessions are part of the new Holy Family Bridge Project, which began this summer to serve local Hispanic students.

More than 50 students between kindergarten and fifth grade attend the tutoring -- all for free, according to program director Leigh Bacevich. Eighteen local high school students volunteer three hours each session to help the students with reading and math.

Many exercises are completed in group settings, said Bacevich, a former teacher. Tutors also provide individual instruction.

When they were younger, Bacevich gave her three children worksheets and activities over the summer so they won't regress. It occurred to her she could do the same thing for other students. All three are now program tutors.

"Our objective is to plug a hole during the summer and let the kids see that school can be fun, because most of what we do to teach them is through games and hands-on activities," she said.

The program also gives students practice standardized-test questions to familiarize them with the format and lessen testing anxiety.

While Bacevich has no official measure of student progress, she believes there has been a marked improvement in many.

Tutor Julitza Moreno agrees.

The junior at Hilton Head Island High School has three younger siblings in the program. They wake up every Tuesday and Thursday ready to work, she said.

"They are getting really proud of themselves and will come home talking about everything they have learned that they will be able to show when they go back to school," Moreno said.

Bacevich plans to continue the project next year, and she hopes the community will donate books, materials and money.

"At the end of the day, if we help just one kid, I think it was worth it," she said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at

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