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3 JFK juniors devote spare time to help middle school pupils

Ms. Denise, Ms. Michelle and Ms. Megan all wake up at about 6 a.m. The three high school juniors don't return home on Tuesdays and Thursdays until about 4 p.m. That's a 10-hour day for these John F. Kennedy High School students, but they don't seem to mind.

Denise Babiak, or Ms. Denise to the middle school pupils attending the After School Reinforcement Program at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, is a junior interested in studying child psychology when she heads to college.

"I am interested in helping kids," Denise said, but laughed as she admitted at times she first has had to relearn some problems herself before helping.

Denise's friend, Ms. Megan, or Megan Bauer, not only helps refresh Denise's memory, but hopes to enliven those same skills in the minds of the pupils she sees during the program.

"The goal of the program is really twofold," said reading specialist and teacher coordinator Greg Schulz. "Obviously, first it is to help the students, but it is also a way to get the community involved in maintaining a connection between the district and the community."

Woodrow Wilson Principal Andrea Cardoso said the program is much more than an after-school "homework club." Pupils are chosen on the basis of need during traditional classroom time. Cardoso said most teachers rotate pupils depending on the subject being taught.

"This is a way to reinforce the skills that [the pupils are struggling with during the day," Cardoso said. "The program is built into the day and the school's culture so much that the extra help isn't viewed as a negative. The help is expected."

During the hour, pupils receive help in a variety of subjects, such as math, language, writing and reading skills. And, using a variety of teaching methods, Schulz said, the pupils are encouraged to look at the problems they are struggling with in a different light.

"We use learning puzzles, main idea games, base games and board games," Schulz said.

The learning platform is not the only thing that changes for the middle schoolers, so do the faces.

"They relate to other students instead of the teachers," Megan said. "Sometimes [pupils] see teachers as the bad guy, but we are doing the same things they do."

"If this was here when I was younger, I would have done it," Babiak said. "I was so scared of my teachers; most kids are."

Michelle Wild, Ms. Michelle to the kids, who is toying with the idea of child care education after high school, also relates to the narrower age gap between herself and the middle school pupils, seeing it as key to "changing what [the pupils] are doing."

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