Jasmine Ainetchian had never tutored anyone before she
joined the Johns
Hopkins Tutorial Project, the after-school program
that provides academic support for Baltimore City
Through this program, the longest-running service of
its kind in the city, children are paired
with Johns Hopkins undergraduates like Ainetchian to
receive one-on-one help in reading, math and
Ainetchian's first tutee was a fifth-grade boy having
trouble with math; in particular,
multiplication and fractions. Each session, the two would
take tiny steps forward and sometimes
suffer a step back. She recalls that it was a struggle for
"I had to come up with so many different ways of
teaching fractions — how to recognize them
and relate them to things in real life — I probably
drove him crazy with fractions," said Ainetchian, a
senior public health studies major who joined the Tutorial
Project her freshman year.
Then, one day, it clicked.
"What I think helped was giving him confidence," she
said. "I told him, it's easy to get
frustrated sometimes — I do, too — and it's OK
if you don't get it right now. We'll keep working on it
until we get it right."
Ainetchian, who is now a student director of the JHU
Tutorial Project, said that she'll never
forget that experience. "Through this program you can form
a special bond with a child that nobody
else can have," she said. "They latch onto you, and you
feel really important. You're having an impact, as
small as it might be, and made something good happen."
For 50 years now, good things have been happening for
thousands of such students in need of a
little academic assistance.
The JHU Tutorial Project will celebrate its
anniversary at a cocktail reception on Saturday
evening in Homewood's Glass Pavilion. The invitation-only
event will welcome back many program alumni
and feature a tribute to Rev. Chester "Chet" Wickwire,
founder of the Tutorial Project, who passed
away on Aug. 31 at the age of 94.
Wickwire, the university's longtime chaplain, started
the project in 1958, during the height of
the civil rights movement. He wanted Johns Hopkins
students, most of whom were male and white, to
interact with the city's black families. He organized
groups from black and white churches to drive
Johns Hopkins students into black neighborhoods, where they
would tutor high school students in
In the mid-1960s, Wickwire decided that at-risk
students needed early intervention, and the
program changed its mission to serve elementary school
students, who were bused from the schools to
the Homewood campus. The program today targets children in
grades 1 through 5 who are behind their
grade level and need a push in the right direction. At one
time, it had more than 300 tutors — faculty
members and nonaffiliates as well as students.
The program originally fell under the auspices of the
Office and now operates
through the university's
Center for Social Concern, led by Bill Tiefenwerth.
Tiefenwerth, who served
under Wickwire as assistant to the chaplain, said that the
Tutorial Project is perhaps Wickwire's
"Chet wanted to level the playing field," Tiefenwerth
said. "He saw under-resourced families and
the rich resources that the university had and wanted to do
something positive. He certainly did."
Each semester, roughly 120 Baltimore students work
one-on-one with trained Johns Hopkins
tutors after school, two afternoons a week, for a 10-week
period. The university students, all of whom
are undergraduates and volunteers, spend an hour and a half
each session with their charges.
The program runs Monday through Thursday. Each day at
4:30 p.m. a yellow bus rolls up behind
Levering Hall loaded up with students. Other students
arrive by car, dropped off by their parents or
First the students get refueled, courtesy of some PB&J
sandwiches, apple juice and graham
crackers. Then the work begins. The tutors plan an hour's
worth of activities and educational games
that are specifically selected to meet each child's needs,
based on assessments conducted at the
beginning of the semester. The pairs work on areas that
need strengthening, whether it's the
alphabet, multiplication tables, fractions, spelling,
homonyms or something else. One day they'll read a
Junie B. Jones book, for example, and the next, do long
The session ends with playtime, whether it's board
games, jump roping or a little game of
football on the quad. Then it's back on the bus for the
The location of the sessions often depends on the
weather, room availability and mood of the
student and tutor. On a sunny day, the two might move
outside the Center for Social Concern's offices
to work on a bench or piece of grass. If quiet time is
needed, they might find an empty conference
room. On many days, Levering Hall's lobby will do just
The children and tutors also have access to the Center
for Social Concern's computer lab and
children's library. Tutors are trained and supported
throughout the semester by a full-time
professional educator, with additional student staff
overseeing the progress of each tutor-tutee pair.
A key to the program's effectiveness over the years is
the match process, said Young Song, who
became the project's director last September.
After a child enrolls in the program, a student
organizer will travel to his or her home two to
three weeks before the tutorial starts to interview the
student and perform an assessment. The goal
is to get to know the individual and what he or she needs
to work on.
"They'll get to know the child's personality and
struggles," Song said. "Maybe the student is
really quiet and shy, or likes sports, or a particular TV
Based on the assessment, the student organizer writes
up a summary detailing the child's
strengths and weaknesses. With this information in hand,
the project's organizers can identify tutors
who match up well.
"Perhaps the child responds well to a male figure, or
needs someone strong in math," she said.
"We do our best. Sometimes it works and we hit it just
right, and sometimes it doesn't and we need to
switch tutors. I think we have more hits than misses."
Song said that the individual tutoring sessions are
goal-oriented, with expectations not placed
"Maybe a student can't do addition of two-digit
numbers, or know how to group, so we'll just
focus on that," she said. "If they exceed that goal, that
is fantastic and we'll move them up gradually.
You have to keep in mind that they are here in the first
place because they can't work at the grade
level they are currently in, so we need to take a step back
and deal with basic concepts."
With such a long track record of success, the JHU
Tutorial Project has built strong
relationships with several area schools that provide a
steady stream of students. Many parents and
teachers found out about the program, which rarely markets
itself, through word of mouth.
Song said that several of the program's participants
are the younger siblings and sons and
daughters of Tutorial Project alumni.
"It has become a family," she said.
Tiefenwerth said that volunteering for the Tutorial
Project has become almost a rite of
passage for Johns Hopkins undergraduates. Each semester,
the project receives scores of new
applications, sometimes more than it needs. He said that
it's heartening to see so many
undergraduates give up their free time for the program.
Ainetchian said that, in her case, she didn't want to
fall into the trap of letting school become
"When you're in college, it's easy to focus on
academics and lose sight of everything else," she
said. "I didn't want to hole myself up at a library all the
time. I got involved with the program because
I wanted to do something that I thought was important.
Those hours twice a week that I spend with
these kids are just so totally different from whatever else
I'm doing. It's an escape to laugh, learn and
play with these kids."
Song said that the student mentors often form very
strong relationships with their tutees.
"Our students become positive role models for these
kids. They'll say that 'I want to be a
college student just like you,' and the [tutors] tell them
if you work hard enough, you can come here,
or whatever college you want," she said.
Tiefenwerth said that tutoring the students on campus
is a vital ingredient to the whole
process. "The hidden value added is that we introduce them
to what college life is like, to demystify it
and show its rewards," he said.
For more information on the Tutorial Project, go to:
www.jhu.edu/csc/tutorialproject or call