Tutors Provide a Safe Place For Learning & Healing

By Eric Steckel | March 9, 2020

“Children are like snowflakes. Each is different and fragile, but beautiful in their own way.”

Children Rising reading and math clinic coordinators know from experience that no two children are the same. Each precious child comes into our lives not only with their own unique personality, but also with the weight of their experience on their young shoulders. Often times those experiences have a profound impact on their outlook on life, their ability to learn, and their behavior. Far too frequently, we encounter students who deal with the uncertainties caused by poverty and lack of stability at home. At the tender age of seven or eight, they are already grappling with depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress.

Gwen Stephens with a student at Hoover Elementary

Gwen Stephens was a teacher for 42 years. She knows that sometimes, children need to get back to a safe space for learning and healing to commence.

“I was a teacher for 42 years,” explained Gwen Stephens, Succeeding by Reading clinic coordinator. “We are not privy to all of the details, or what has happened in their past, but we can be there for the children. We can be their safe space.”

Our clinic coordinators and tutors are caring adults who frequently intervene in a child’s bad day and advocate for them when they are voiceless. They are an invaluable source of solace, encouragement, and support that a child may need to get back into a good place, both emotionally and academically. “I’m not saying I do anything better,” Gwen clarified. “I am just a different face, someone who cares, who can provide a change of scenery for the child.”

We spoke with several of our clinic coordinators, and they shared a few heart-warming stories of children who entered into that safe place at a critical time.

“Traumatic experiences have a profound impact on a child’s outlook on life, their ability to learn, and their behavior.”

Laticia with Tutor

Laticia was not prepared to go back to class that day. Thanks to a caring adult in the right place, she formed a strong bond and is thriving in her reading clinic.

Laticia* started with the Succeeding by Reading clinic at the beginning of the school year. One day, Gwen Stephens saw Laticia in the hallway, “just out of control.” Several teacher aides were attempting to calm Laticia, but she continued to be loudly confrontational, and even tried to run away. Although it wasn’t her day to be tutored, Gwen came up to Laticia and said, “Hey honey, do you want to go with me to Reading Clinic?”

“Yeah,” Laticia replied, and the two made their way to tutoring. Gwen and Laticia began reading “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Not only did it take Laticia’s mind off of her troubles, but the two had fun. Serious fun. Laticia was delighted that Gwen wanted to spend time with her. By the end of the session, she raved, “That’s the best book ever!”

The incident cemented a bond between the two. Prior to that day, Laticia could be difficult with her tutors, sometimes refusing to participate, even lying down on the ground instead of reading. Now, whenever she sees Gwen, Laticia runs up and excitedly asks, “Is it reading day?” She is engaged with her tutor, and her rate of learning has increased dramatically. And when Laticia is having an off day, Gwen’s smiling demeanor gets her to focus.


Carolyn Piraino, who has served as a reading clinic coordinator for over ten years, recalls a student she worked with five years ago who managed to get on track academically in the 2nd grade. However, it wasn’t easy.

Tutors can be an advocate for struggling students, empowering them to rise to their potential.

Sometimes children need a champion who will stand up and be their advocate, empowering them to rise to their potential in elementary school, middle school, and beyond.

“I knew Tamika* well,” says Carolyn. “Although she was physically more mature than her classmates, to be honest, her behavior issues made her difficult to work with. It could be so discouraging.”

Undeterred, Carolyn worked hard with Tamika. Despite her behavior and attitude, Tamika made progress with her reading. By the end of the year, Carolyn was confident that Tamika was ready for 3rd grade. When Carolyn heard that despite Tamika’s dramatic progress, the young girl was going to be held back, she stepped in to advocate for her student.

“I just believed in my heart that things would go from bad to worse for Tamika,” Carolyn explained. “So I showed her test scores to her teacher and the principal. I told them that Tamika was academically ready for 3rd grade, and I urged them to move her on.”

Carolyn is not sure what impact her intervention may have had in determining Tamika’s future, but Tamika was not held back. “I saw her again the next year and asked her how she was doing,” Carolyn recalls. “She gave a big smile and hug, and said, ‘Good.’ ”

“Fortunately, our Succeeding by Reading and Path2Math tutors are caring adults who can empower a struggling child to get back to a good place where learning – and healing – may commence.”


Brenda Paulin observed Mateo*, one of her Succeeding by Reading students, standing outside in the hallway before tutoring. “He is normally a shy, sensitive young boy, who rarely smiles, but was always receptive to tutoring,” Brenda said. “However, on this day, Mateo was visibly distraught with tears rolling down his cheeks. He had shut down.”

Student and Tutor at SbR Reading Clinic

Many children who suffer from trauma act out in school. One-on-one attention from tutors can provide the solace a child may need to get back to a good place.

It turns out he had been in a fight with a fellow student. Although he did not want to go into the tutoring session, Brenda sensed that he was not ready to go back into the general classroom where he would have to confront that student. So Brenda asked the restorative justice teacher to help her. Together, they were able to gently encourage Mateo to attend tutoring.

Instead of jumping into the normal tutoring routine, Mateo and his tutor played a round of “Hidden Pictures,” a fun game that they normally end sessions with. This helped to change his demeanor. Mateo relaxed, so that by the end of the tutoring session, he was in a “good place.”

“If he had to go immediately into the frenzy of the classroom, he would not have been able to get out of the negative head space he was in. But the tutoring session provided him with a ‘safe place’ where he could be cared for and attended to one on one.”

Caring adults, empowering struggling students through a one on one relationship
Thanks to you, each $100 gift allows us to train and place another caring tutor.

Thanks to you, each $100 gift allows us to train and place another caring tutor.

As adults, we know the feeling of a bad day. We’ve experienced struggle. We’ve also had time to develop coping skills that help us through the difficult times. Children don’t have those skills. They only know they hurt, and they don’t always know why. Those raw emotions have a profound effect on their ability to learn. Fortunately, our Succeeding by Reading and Path2Math tutors are caring adults who can empower and advocate for a struggling child to get back to a good place where learning – and healing – may commence.

Thanks to you, each $100 gift allows us to train and place another caring tutor.

YES, I CAN help a vulnerable child SOAR to their God-given potential.

 I want to visit a reading or math clinic to see if tutoring is right for me!

 I want help fund Children Rising tutoring and mentoring programs to empower more children this year.


* Names changed to maintain confidentiality

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