Malibu teen driven to contribute

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Nicole Klein, 14, has been tutoring elementary school children for nearly a year, an experience she finds uplifting as she sees a student's progress. Photo by Vicky Shere / TMT

Intergenerational voluntary tutor program launches high school freshman into community service and offers way for schools to aid struggling readers at no cost.

By Vicky Shere / Special to the Malibu Times

Sometimes, you don’t have to do much to make a difference.

Like tutoring a child an hour a week.

With the aid of the Santa Monica nonprofit Wise Senior Services, Malibu resident Nicole Klein, 14, has been tutoring elementary school children for nearly a year, an experience she finds uplifting as she sees a student’s progress.

“She is really focused, she really wants to learn,” Klein, a freshman at Viewpoint School, said of a fifth-grade student she tutors in math. “This is what I want to do. I want to be there for her.”

Between her Saturday tutoring at Fairview Library in Santa Monica and her monthly tutoring at the Zeitgeist Community Learning Center in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles, Klein estimates she has completed 50 hours of community service, five more than required to graduate.

She aims to complete 200 hours of community service, even as she swims competitively during and after school, studies at Virginia O’Neil Art Studio in Malibu, and attends Pepperdine University’s tennis camp and Idyllwild Arts Camp during the summer.

An only child, Klein knew she wanted to work with children for her school’s community service requirement.

Her initiation into tutoring came through Wise Senior Services’ intergenerational volunteer tutor project, Wise America Reads.

The program aims to keep children from economically disadvantaged households, who score significantly lower on standardized tests than their peers, from falling behind in reading during crucial early grades.

Training and placing volunteer literacy tutors in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District elementary schools and after-school programs, Wise America Reads provides children with individual one-on-one tutoring at no cost to the schools.

Klein’s hectic schedule prompted the program’s manager, Susanne Pennoyer, to provide Klein’s training through videotapes of teacher/student scenarios delivered to Fairview librarian Sylvia Anderle, rather than the typical on-site school training by SMMUSD teachers.

The tapes, along with Pennoyer’s liaising with the tutored student’s parents, teachers, the student and Klein, helped Klein overcome her initial fears.

“At first, I felt awkward, I didn’t know what to do,” Klein said. “Then it seemed kind of intuitive.”

Klein’s first student was a seven-year-old boy who was struggling to read. She asked him questions about his interests and then let him pick the books about dragons and other scary stories he favored.

Klein helps her current student work out math problems by herself.

“It’s rewarding for tutors to see students learning to think and believe in themselves,” Pennoyer, who has headed the project for six years, said.

Klein also has a new perspective on life.

“I now appreciate the value of my education and the difficulties teachers go through,” she said. “This is a really good program furthering education for underprivileged kids.”

Wise America Reads next volunteer tutor training, “Help Children Read / Grades K-5,” will take place June 16, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Grant Elementary School, 2368 Pearl St., Santa Monica, portable building room No. 70. SMMUSD teacher Gabriella Murcia will train volunteers to help children read in summer school and summer programs. Information on Wise America Reads can be obtained by calling Susanne Pennoyer at 310.394.9871, ext. 452. More information on Wise Senior Services’ Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (“RSVP”), which places volunteers aged 55 and older in nonprofit and/or government agencies, can be obtained by calling Ann Hammond at 310.394.9871, ext. 450.