Ice cream and long division—YouthNet comes to King’s

King's Advancement Office

King’s Advancement Office

Every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. since January 2018, the sounds of class in the King’s Theatrical Society lecture hall are replaced by the lively, enthusiastic sounds of 20 children. The kids, who range in age from grades two to six, trickle into the room in small groups, shuttled to King’s by volunteers who drive them from Joseph Howe Elementary School. They sling down their backpacks and coats, enjoy a few moments of giggles, then seek out their tutors. From there, the rambunctious sounds are dulled and replaced by questions about the purposes of long division.

The program is a fledgling branch of St. George’s YouthNet, a youth organization in the North End of Halifax providing free programming to children living in or near Uniacke Square, a public housing community. If you haven’t heard of YouthNet, you might have seen the founder around: Father Gary Thorne, who created the program in 1998.

Sarah Griffin, co-organizer of the partnership, says it was Thorne who came up with the idea of tutoring as a way to bridge King’s and YouthNet. Last Christmas the plan finally unfolded. Rozzi Curran, executive director of YouthNet and also a King’s graduate was on board, posters were up in early December and the first get-together of tutors happened by mid-January.

Each child is matched with a tutor from King’s, but the tutors aren’t all undergraduate students; dons and members of the chapel community are also involved. Aaron Shenkman, don of Cochran Bay, has worked previously tutoring inmates at the local prison, as well as working at Dalhousie’s Writing Centre. Shenkman says that YouthNet “really teaches us how to act charitably,” adding that getting children onto campus helps create space in an extremely privileged place.

Sarah Griffin agrees.

“The long term vision [of the program] is to plant the seed that there are options out there for them,” Griffin says, “that university is possible.”

She notes that many students come from households that may not see university as a possibility. Curran says tutoring is important because many of the kids don’t get extra help at home, and their class sizes are so large it’s hard for them to get one-on-one attention. By pairing them with tutors from King’s, it’s helped the students get the attention they need on subjects such as reading, writing and math, as well as forming important relationships with their tutors.

Don’t just take the adults’ words for it.

Julius, who is 10-years-old, has been in YouthNet for a year. He says he enjoys coming to tutoring each week. His favourite thing about the program is simple: “the tutors.” He enjoys math, but says he hopes to become a Youtuber when he’s older.

Layan, also 10-years-old, was looking for an after-school program three years ago. She found YouthNet through her friends. Her tutor is also her favourite part of the program, and she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.

Of course, the program isn’t all math problems. The promise that comes at the end of each week for the children — a helping of ice cream from Chartwells — is enough to entice them even on their most unfocused days.

Both students and tutors leave this year knowing a bit more about each other, about compassion, thoughtfulness and about the community they live in. As Thorne’s retirement looms, we’re reminded of the legacy he leaves on Halifax. The initiative will hopefully continue next year, as long as there are enough tutors and volunteer drivers to get the kids to King’s, says Griffin.

“When you’re in FYP it’s hard to feel like you really know anything or are a part of a larger community,” Jenny Lapp, a first-year FYP student says, “so being able to teach each other is a way to bridge that, to connect to a broader Halifax. I also learned how to do long multiplication today.”

With exams around the corner, Curran plans to extend the program to the end of classes. For the coming Tuesday afternoons, 20 kids will trickle into the KTS lecture hall and fill the room with sounds of laughter and joy. And at 4:30 p.m., you can be sure they’ll pick up their bags and leave — if only for the promise of ice cream. Watch out for the children, and take a good look; some of them might just be the graduating class of 2028.

Editor’s note: Megan Krempa is a tutor in the YouthNet program.