Since 1958, the Tutorial Program has been the heart and soul of so many of the Hopkins undergraduates' college experience. Every year, hundreds of students have volunteered two afternoons a week to tutor inner city elementary school children. Program director Weslie Wornom says students find that those afternoons, working with a child, lift them through the week and go a long way toward putting their own work and worries into perspective.
One of the oldest and longest running campus tutoring programs in the country, the Tutorial Project this year enters its fifth decade. It celebrates its 40th anniversary from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 19, in Levering Hall, Homewood, with a special tribute to the Rev. Chester Wickwire, the legendary Hopkins chaplain who started the Tutorial Program during the Civil Rights movement. Wickwire was a tireless anti-segregationist, who designed the volunteer program as a way for Hopkins students, at the time male and mostly white, to meet and interact with black Baltimore families.
"The thing about it I'm most proud of is that getting involved in the tutoring really changed the lives of the people involved," says Wickwire, now 84, who retired from Hopkins in 1984. "And this is what we tried to do, to relate people in a helping way to the city."
At the time, the Tutorial Program was a radical idea; Baltimore was a very segregated city, and Hopkins was no different. Wickwire organized groups from black and white local churches to drive Hopkins students into black neighborhoods, where students would tutor high school students in their own homes.
Despite the reservations then of the Hopkins administration and even the Baltimore City Council, Wickwire had a lot of latitude. At the time, many elite campuses in the United States had strong YMCA presences, and Levering Hall was owned by the YMCA, which employed Wickwire. It was a time before there was a full-time dean of students, and Wickwire wore many hats: He was in charge of Orientation, special events, religious activities, volunteer programs and student activities.
Originally, the Tutorial Project was not manned by just Hopkins students. By the early '60s it had more than 400 tutors, some of whom were faculty members and some of whom had no connection with Johns Hopkins at all.
"Though we were very much going against the stream, the university provided us a place to do our work," recalls Wickwire. "And in the '60s, a lot of other tutoring groups started, as many as 30 at one point. We were able to provide a lot of leadership for them because we had good faculty support. I think we made a real impact on the city."
A few years into the project, Wickwire decided that at-risk students needed early intervention, and he changed the program's focus to the elementary school grades. Later, during the time of civil disorder in the mid-'60s, the children were bused by the city from their schools and homes to the Homewood campus. It's remained that way ever since.
Now 100 elementary school students participate in the project. On Tuesdays and Thursdays 50 children come from Southwest Baltimore, and on Mondays and Wednesdays 50 arrive from East Baltimore. Each Hopkins volunteer, who is trained in a phonics-based reading program and in early math, will work with one child. Along with the benefits of individualized learning and mentoring, Wornom says there are immeasurable positive effects on the children when they have a learning experience in a college setting.
The effects on the Hopkins students when they volunteer is also immeasurable.
"This gives the students something to focus on besides themselves or their grades," says Rebecca DuLaney, a junior at Hopkins and student director for the Tutorial Project. "Hopkins can be a high-stress environment, and it can be easy for students to get locked into their own problems and consumed with all the work there is to do. Working with these children, we realize that some people have problems far more profound than our own, and it gives us a perspective of the world outside our campus."
There is another legacy that Wickwire and the Tutorial Program have given to the Homewood campus. The Tutorial Project was the flagship program of the Office of Volunteer Services when it opened in 1992. Its standard has been the wellspring for the 51 student programs that now operate out of Community Relations and Volunteer Services, drawing upon a force of 800 Hopkins undergraduate volunteers. Today, Hopkins students are in every part of the city, working among the elderly, the homeless, the blind, the mentally disabled. They are in local schools, hospitals, prisons and community centers.
They are agents of change, and very often, they find themselves changed by their experiences in Baltimore City.
"So many students have come into this office completely confident in their minds that they want to be doctors or lawyers or computer engineers," says Wornom. "But then after they get involved in a worthy cause, and become absorbed or passionate about it, then they find a whole new part of themselves opening up. I know students who after volunteering in the programs have decided to become teachers or get involved in politics, who decide to go into public health or work for the Peace Corps. College is a wonderful time to get involved in community work. The students believe they can make a difference, and because they truly believe that, they very often can."