Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Aug. 12 @ 6:09 p.m. / Community, Education

Tutors for Foster Youth Wanted


Three students will participate in a new program that offers tutoring to foster students.

Paid for by a $10,000 donation from the Philanthropic Fund of the Caldwell Family, the program represents a partnership with the Del Norte County Office of Education, the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods and the local CASA program.

It will allow tutors to spend two to three hours offering one on one support to local foster children, according to CASA Executive Director Christine Slette. However, involvement in the program doesn't necessarily mean the student is behind in his or her studies, she said.

“It’s not just tutoring, it’s helping to do some fun activity with the kids,” Slette said. “It’s really an opportunity to help them feel good while (excelling) in school.”

Slette said she will work with Connie Battles-Bern, the DNCOE's director of homeless and foster youth services, to identify those who would benefit most from the program.

Amira Long, executive director of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods, will be the project supervisor and will oversee hiring for the program. The new tutoring program is part of AmeriCorps' California Foster Youth Initiative and will be held in the evenings and on weekends, Long said.

“It feels like the perfect fit for the FRC,” she said.

According to Slette, one person has already signed up to be a tutor. Janet Gilbert, is a long-time CASA volunteer and has experience in "trauma-informed" care, Slette said. She said she, Battles-Bern and Long are currently interviewing more potential tutors.

Standing for Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA volunteers are specially trained to work with children navigating their way through the foster system. These children already struggle with school, Slette said, but until now adequate tutoring hasn't been available.


“They’re getting pulled out of another class to go to tutoring that’s 50 minutes long, which is really only 30 minutes long,” she said. “They’re already going through some pretty traumatic experiences and having some self-esteem issues already. Or they’re in after school programs (with) 20 or 30 other kids and one or two adults. They’re not getting that one on one tutoring.”

Slette, realizing several of her volunteers are retired teachers with experience of working with at-risk youth, partnered with Battles-Bern to create the tutoring program. They then reached out to former teacher Michael Caldwell, Slette said.

“He said this sounds like a great program, 'I would like to help fund it,'” Slette said. “This was really exciting because then we could offer some type of funding to someone, whether it was a stipend, and hire someone to focus on creating that program that would not be interrupting the regular school day.”

Caldwell, who made the donation with his wife, Marie, also a former teacher, said one of his goals is to help create a successful program that people would want to support and help expand. He said the money he and his wife donated should pay for three students to receive support during the school year.

The tutoring program will start about two weeks before school begins, Caldwell said. One month into the school year, the "lessons that were learned” will be applied to the program going forward, he said.

“With all the talk of the homeless issues in Del Norte County, I didn’t hear or read anything on the importance of education and plans to spend some of monies the county is receiving for the homeless issue on kids and their education,” Caldwell said via email.

Caldwell said he and his wife want to be apprised on the program’s successes and difficulties, but would leave the work to CASA, the FRC and the Del Norte County Office of Education. The program’s success would be best determined by the “pros,” he said, but he wants to see the students being socialized, reading at grade-level and actively participating in school.

“A goal is eventually to expand the program to embrace all the homeless and foster children,” Caldwell said. “By the time, and actually before, we get to the end of the school year, we would like to expand the program. There are more people in teh community with donations and want to help and participate.”

As of the month of July, CASA advocates were serving 35 foster children, Slette said. Forty-eight are on the waiting list for an advocate. She noted that CASA always needs volunteers. Those who go through the CASA training program would be eligible to become a tutor, Slette said.

“We have 80 something kids in the system,” she said. “If the majority are in need of tutoring, we could benefit by having more people volunteer to be tutors.”

According to a flyer, becoming an AmeriCorps tutor includes a living stipend, education award, student loan deferment and professional development. Those who are 18 years old or older should apply. Former foster youth are preferred. The program would welcome college students or a recent college graduate as well as caregivers and retired professionals.

For more information, call Amira Long at (707) 464-0955 extension 2102 or email along@frcredwoods.org.


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