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Math tutors add 'free' to the equation

High school volunteers draw dozens to summertime math prep classes at a La Crescenta church.

July 23, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Cheryl Guerrero/Staff…)

Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta is dotted with signs advertising SAT prep classes and other tutoring services, much of it geared toward the community’s sizable Korean population.

Still, academic extras that provide a number of students a leg up in school aren’t financially possible for some families and culturally foreign to others.

Now, a group of high-performing, high school volunteers are working to even the playing field, providing a free math tutoring program that is attracting dozens of students to New Song Church on La Crescenta Avenue each Friday afternoon.

“There are tutoring services in this neighborhood, of course, but they all charge money,” said 17-year-old Richard Cho, who will be a senior at Crescenta Valley High School next year. “We decided, ‘Well, there are plenty of smart kids at [Crescenta Valley]. Let’s organize them all in one place so we can tutor people for free.’”

The program launched in April under the umbrella of the Global Leadership Institute, an education-focused nonprofit with chapters in nearly two dozen Southern California school districts. The tutoring is open to all school-aged children, who are divided into small groups based on grade level.

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Tutors and students spend some time reviewing math curriculum from the previous year. But much of the work this summer has been to familiarize the students with concepts that they will study starting with the first day of school in August, tutors said.

Jieun Jung, also a soon-to-be senior at Crescenta Valley High School, said she prepares work sheets and other materials for her students at home, and enjoys watching them master problems put before them.

“They get excited, too,” said Jung, 17. “They are really competitive. They always ask me, ‘Is he doing better than me? What problem is he on? Who’s faster?’”

Still, the mission of the new tutoring program is bigger than math exercises or future grade point averages, organizers said. It is also meant to foster relationships between local Korean families — for whom education is a top priority — and others.

“We normally stay inside our community,” said Jennifer Cho, who with her son Richard is a driving force behind the program. “Koreans hang out with Koreans. But we want to help out other [immigrant communities].”

The message appears to be getting out. On Friday — the program runs from 5 to 7 p.m. — dozens of little heads were bent over work sheets in a community room at New Song Church. Earlier this month, one tutoring session attracted so many people that Richard Cho and his fellow volunteers had to improvise.

“It was completely packed full of people,” he said. “We literally didn’t have enough tables for the people so we had to use the ping pong tables.”

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