Northwest NEWS

April 19, 1999


FLY program soars to success

It's a two-way street when Woodinville High drama student Becky Miller (left) tutors Chema Tovar. Miller helps raise money for Soaring to Scotland, and the young Tovar receives help with his schoolwork.
Photo by Judy Bonifaci.

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   FLY, Falcons Leading (Wildcat) Youth, is an innovative new program that pairs high school students with elementary aged children in a special tutoring relationship. It is a way to provide assistance to children who need extra help in their learning. FLY is the brainchild of Judy Bonifaci, a fourth grade teacher at Woodin Elementary.

   For several years, Bonifaci taught in the primary grades, and then three years ago, she began teaching fourth through sixth graders.

   "After I worked with this age group for awhile, it became apparent to me that the needs of these kids were greater, and that there was just not enough of me to reach out and help everyone," Bonifaci said. "It was frustrating for me and the children who needed the extra help to succeed."

   Knowing that one-to-one help usually requires funding, Bonifaci decided to write a grant to obtain the necessary money for tutors and transportation costs. Her goal was to find significant people to influence and relate to the children. There were already Woodinville High students coming to Woodin during the day to help some of the kids on a for-credit basis, and she knew this was a successful situation for both groups.

   "High school students relate so well to elementary kids, and the elementary kids just love the attention they receive from them," Bonifaci commented. "I knew that the key was to find some way to attract the high school students to come after school. We couldn't pay them, so I had to come up with another idea."

   Bonifaci's brainstorm led her to WHS's drama department where a group of students has been chosen to participate this summer in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They have been working all year to earn their way to Scotland through various fundraising activities.

   "If we could offer the group a donation to their fund, perhaps this would entice students to be tutors," explained Bonifaci. Partners in Education approved a grant for $4,500 with $4,000 going to the Soaring to Scotland fund and $500 for a bus to transport the children home after the tutoring program.

   FLY, now in its sixth week of operation, meets Monday and Wednesday, 3 to 4 p.m. Twenty-two fourth, fifth, and sixth graders and forty-four high school students are involved in the program. Two high school students share one elementary child and alternate their days.

   "The kids involved at Woodin have been chosen by the teachers for various reasons," Bonifaci said. "These are kids who are not quite there yet and they need some help, yet they don't qualify for special education. Many of them are ESL, so there's a language component, too."

   Attendance is mandatory and if a child doesn't come, he/she will be removed from the program. "We have a list of children who are waiting to get in," she said, "so it's important that those who are in already are committed to participating. Plus, progress only happens with consistency."

   FLY tutors received training from Bonifaci on working with children, dealing with various behaviors, teaching strategies, and elements of the new math program. Program time is spent on finishing homework and practicing vocabulary, spelling, and math facts, followed by reading together.

   Bonifaci began seeing the success of the program early on. "The children are so eager to work with their tutors and they are making significant progress in their skills," she said. "The one-on-one situation is so productive for these kids because the relationships they have developed are incredibly positive.

   "The high school students are a great bunch of kids who have worked together as a group on numerous shows, and so they have a good prior relationship with one another. They are motivated to be here for their Scotland goal, but I believe that even without the goal, they'd come, now that they've immersed themselves in the program."

   Willie LeVasseur, WHS senior, has found working with the children to be a rewarding, as well as eye-opening experience.

   "It has taught me patience and shown me ways of working with kids to make learning fun. The young girl I'm working with has a short attention span and difficulty focusing on things," he said. "I'm using lots of hands-on activities to help teach her multiplication and division, and she's responding to them."

   Although LeVasseur has worked with children before in drama camps, he enjoys the tutoring situation more. "Working one-on-one like this is special because I feel like I can make a difference," he explained.

   For more information about the FLY program, contact Judy Bonifaci at 402-5981.