Christine Pappas ’14 tutors a 9-year-old girl from Burundi, but she is not always the one doing the talking.
“I’m constantly asking her to teach me things,” Pappas said — her tutee would like to become a teacher one day. “She has been really fortunate and has had really dedicated teachers in school,” she said. “What I’ve been able to do is encourage that in her.”
Students said they see an impact on their own lives when they tutor members of Providence’s refugee community through the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment program, which Pappas helps coordinate.
BRYTE-ning the community
BRYTE matches Brown student-tutors with refugees who live in Providence. About 130 tutors currently volunteer through the program, each working for at least three hours weekly, said Julia Stoller ’15, BRYTE’s Providence public schools liaison and a tutor with the program.
But “BRYTE is not just about the three hours a week,” Stoller said. “It’s about another person. It’s all about a relationship.”
The tutors aim to improve tutees’ English language skills, assist with their schoolwork and build relationships, which involve activities outside of coursework, Stoller said. She has taken her tutee to a Brown soccer game and to the RISD museum.
BRYTE also hosts events for the tutors, tutees and the tutees’ families, such as an annual Thanksgiving dinner, Stoller said.
Many students tutor for BRYTE for all four years of college, and some keep the same tutee through their tenure with the program, Stoller said. Tutors commit not solely to one tutee but to an entire family, she added, and many tutors eat dinner or do other activities with those families.
BRYTE has been “the most formative experience of my Brown career,” said Abbie Galloway ’16, BRYTE’s volunteer training coordinator.
“It’s just a reality check,” she said. “You go and you tutor and you realize that that exam that you’re stressed out about is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.”
Tutor Gina Roberti ’14 said the program has impacted the way she views the world and the way she perceives her role in the local Providence community.
“It’s allowed me to be a much more conscious person about the … world outside Brown,” she added.
Pappas said participating in BRYTE has prompted her to consider jobs in education after graduation.
In addition to providing tutoring, BRYTE helps refugees integrate into the Providence community.
Roberti has brought her tutee to dance performances at Brown, she said. Because her tutee likes to write and perform music, Roberti has worked with her to record music, even putting one video on YouTube, she said.
“Some of our tutors have helped the parents and their families study for the citizenship test,” Stoller said.
Refugees often do not know much English when they first arrive in the United States, Galloway said. When she first started tutoring, her tutee could only say basic greetings, like “hi” or “how are you.” Galloway said she recalled talking to her tutee later and thinking, “Nine months ago I would not have been able to have this level of conversation with him, and it’s just crazy to see how that’s progressed.”
BRYTE tutors and coordinators also work with Providence schools and other local resources to respond to tutee needs.
“One student was … feeling very isolated at her school, and a lot of her friends — other refugee students that she knew — were going to a different school, so we helped her transfer,” Stoller said.
For tutees with learning disabilities, BRYTE collaborates with a social worker in the Providence public school system to get them Individualized Education Programs without the normally-required evidence, Stoller said. Typically two years of evidence of the disability is required for an IEP, and refugees often do not have those records, she added.
BRYTE also helps prepare tutees for life after high school. The program recently hosted a “Preparedness Day” to educate tutees about post-graduation options, hosting representatives from schools like the Community College of Rhode Island and employment readiness programs, Stoller said.
“We had some students there who had never heard the word ‘college’ before,” she said. One speaker at the event had previously been tutored by BRYTE and now has a full scholarship to Connecticut College, she added.
One of the tutees in the family Stoller works with has already been approached by multiple colleges, including being recruited by the University of Rhode Island for soccer, she added.