Concert funds tutors for at-risk students

  • September 22, 2010
Rosanna RiversoTORONTO - Just hitting that one, pure, crystal-clear note is hard enough. Hitting it all alone, without the help of supporting musicians, takes courage.

When Rosanna Riverso strides out in front of her audience at St. Paul’s Basilica Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. she will have the reassurance of piano, bass, guitar and percussion backing her up. But she will be singing on behalf of kids who don’t necessarily have any back-up.

Riverso has been presenting concerts at Catholic parishes on behalf of parish-selected charities. Funds raised from the $20 tickets to her concerts (three tickets for $45) go directly to the parish’s charity. At St. Paul’s the money will go to support tutoring for Grade 6-to-8 kids who are at risk of failing or entering high school without much chance of success.

As a teacher herself with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, Riverso believes giving poor kids a hand up in education is essential.

“If the Church has an ability to do that, they need to do that,” said the singer, songwriter and business teacher at the Brian J. Fleming Catholic Adult Learning Centre in Mississauga.

The tutoring program at St. Paul’s Catholic School is Msgr. Brad Massman’s big idea. The pastor of St. Paul’s has seen the Kumon Learning Centres in malls and main streets throughout the leafy middle class suburbs. The postal code surrounding St. Paul’s (the school and the church are side-by-side) is the poorest in Toronto and there aren’t any tutoring franchises nearby.

Massman believes it’s the Church’s job to level that playing field as much as possible.

“A lot of our parents, they’re wonderful parents, but they’re poor,” Massman said.

For parents who may not have had a great education themselves, or who are holding multiple jobs, it’s not so easy to help their children develop good study habits, said the parish priest.

The Tuesday and Thursday after-school program is a pure gift for many of the parents and kids, said Sr. Margaret Feeley. Helping families climb out of poverty is what Churches are supposed to do, according to the St. Joseph Sister.

“Faith without good works — it’s nothing,” said Feeley.

The tutoring program is the natural extension of St. Paul’s 21-year-old breakfast club.

“We’ve moved from the breakfast club to try to think of the whole child,” Massman said.

Uptown at the school board offices, administrators were surprised and pleased to hear of the program at St. Paul’s. But Toronto Catholic District School Board superintendent Josie Di Giovanni isn’t so sure private tutoring services have opened up a huge academic gap between middle class kids and the underprivileged. She believes the Kumon approach, with its heavy emphasis on repetition, is out of step with the school curriculum and pedagogical methods.

With provincial funding, the board runs its own after-school tutoring programs in the city’s priority neighbourhoods, plus in-class tutoring programs during the school day. These programs have the advantage of using board-approved materials and employing certified teachers, said Di Giovanni.

“There’s a little bit more control over what is taught and how it’s taught,” said Di Giovanni.

There’s no reason to believe that publicly funded education isn’t good enough without private-sector tutoring add-ons, she said.

“That’s what we’re trying to do is close the gap in student achievement,” she said.

Perhaps the most important thing about a parish-supported tutoring program is that it sends a message to kids that education is important — important enough that the whole Church community cares about it, said Di Giovanni.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to say to the monsignor that what you’re doing is not appropriate. But I don’t think we are expecting the parishes to be raising money to do this... It’s an individual response to a need.”

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