PERSISTENCE by Jews for Social Action (JSA) volunteers is turning a humble 2005 pilot program that helped one Aboriginal child in Warringah with reading difficulties into a model of success across Sydney’s north.
The JSA Early Support Aboriginal Literacy Project now provides one-on-one reading tuition several times per week to 19 Indigenous students at eight primary schools.
In a timely comment ahead of NAIDOC Week which begins on July 3, the program’s coordinator Nic Witton said, “It’s kept going all this time because there’s still a need for it – and it’s growing.
“That’s good because it provides us with an opportunity to help more kids, but it’s also bad because it means there is still not enough funding at schools to do the kind of things that we do.”
About half of JSA’s volunteers – all members of North Shore Temple Emanuel – volunteer one morning per week, and the remaining tutors come from local reconciliation and church groups, as well as the corporate sector.
JSA volunteer Amanda Dweck, who assists two sets of twins at Mt Colah Public School with reading each week, said, “I feel this program is incredibly important because if young kids fall behind in primary school, it’s very hard for them to catch up.”
When The AJN joined Dweck last month for a reading session with year 3 twins Olivia and Mitchell, both children were busily reading aloud and finding what they called “our tricky words” to list and discuss.
Dweck said Olivia is motivated and progressing well, particularly in vocabulary.
While she feels Mitchell still struggles at times, Dweck has noticed him gaining confidence and “not just switching off” when he didn’t understand something.
“Confidence is so important because a lot don’t have much self-esteem when they start,” Dweck said.
The school’s principal John Paterson said that Dweck has “probably been our longest-serving volunteer”.
“It’s a fabulous program for us because we’ve got finite resources that never stretch as far as we’d like,” Paterson said.
“The old saying language is power really applies here.”
Witton told The AJN more volunteers are needed as six new students and two schools joined this year and a school in North Ryde is ready to sign up.
“Our program is also serving as a model for two new projects in the Northern Beaches,” Witton said.
“Meanwhile, in the eastern suburbs, Emanuel Synagogue’s social justice group recently started sending volunteer tutors to two schools.”
To find out more about the program, visit www.nste.org.au or phone Nic Witton on (02) 9888 5774.