TOPS volunteers make a difference

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    By Lauren Lewis

    Math was a challenge for eighth-grader Taylor Robinson. But when a BYU volunteer came to the rescue, decimals and equations became fun.

    ?You know when something?s hard, and you don?t want to do it?? Robinson asked his mom. ?Well, my helper made math fun for me!?

    This is just one example of the many ways in which BYU students are giving to the Provo?s Meridian School. With more than 120 volunteers, they have performed over 1,075 service hours this semester. It?s all part of the university?s Tutor Outreach to Provo Schools, or TOPS program.

    ?The results have been amazing,? said Katherine Hall, TOPS site coordinator for the Meridian School. ?Test scores are improving, and parents have stopped me in the halls to say how great the BYU volunteers are.?

    One student volunteer is Johanna Jensen, a pre-music major from Manassas, Va. Jensen has been volunteering with the school?s choir program, an experience she finds ?fantastic.?

    Every now and then, a student will be having a hard time, Jensen said. Once, a young girl had trouble learning to sing a German song. She expressed her frustration to Jensen, looking for some comfort.

    ?I told her it?s only too hard if you tell yourself it is,? Jensen said. ?She didn?t believe me at first, but then she started singing again and gradually got better. It?s very rewarding when things like that happen.?

    Similar rewards have come to Dylan Pratt, another TOPS volunteer. The biology major from Salt Lake City has worked with the kindergarten class this semester. He noticed one boy was ?always a goofball, always bothering other kids,? so he decided to help him.

    ?He was able to get his stuff done when he needed to,? Pratt said. ?I really did make a difference, and it felt wonderful.?

    Volunteers are also making a difference in the fourth grade class at the school. Meridian is an independent college preparatory school, with classes from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. And learning from college students helps the fourth graders, said class teacher Keri Wahl.

    ?The thing that impacts them most is working with a college student,? Wahl said. ?They hear the perspectives of solid role models ? what their favorite book was at that age, and what they remember learning.?

    It?s helpful to know when someone has been in your shoes, Wahl said. One girl in her class struggles with dyslexia. The girl?s volunteer, whom she calls ?Mr. West,? also suffered from it as a child. As a result, he is able to provide his own advice and support for the students. Mr. West reads with the girl for 45 minutes each visit.

    ?He is so patient with the student, and she absolutely loves it,? Wahl said.

    Wahl offers a multiplication challenge for students in her class. She has never had students master the challenge before April or May, but with the help of a TOPS volunteer, all 18 children passed it off in October.

    ?It?s incredible what we?ve been able to accomplish with the volunteers,? Wahl said. ?We just couldn?t have done it without them.?

    Many BYU students are required to perform service through classes such as American Heritage. But any student can participate in the TOPS program by visiting the Service and Learning Center. More information is available online at tops.byu.edu.

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