Tutor-a-Bull Program Pays Dividends

USF students tutor middle and high school students to help kids and receive teacher training in the process.


The USF Tutor-a-Bull program is involved with Webb Middle School. Tutors Tiffany Dick (left) and Catherine Jerez (far right) are joined by Michael Ithrel (second from left), program coordinator Sarah Bombly and Rick Guadalupe.  Photos: Laura Kneski | USF News


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2013) – When a child struggles in class, but goes unnoticed sitting quietly behind row after row of classmates, it’s difficult for teachers to recognize and assess the problem.


This is the type of situation that may call for a tutor – someone who can aid the student with one-on-one assistance in order to more thoroughly convey the concepts that haven’t yet been grasped. Perhaps the student doesn’t like teachers, or maybe he or she just needs the subject explained in a different way.


The above describes one of the goals of University of South Florida’s Tutor-a-Bull Program. Each semester, about 100 students in the USF College of Education sign on as tutors. They work at 20 Hillsborough County middle and high schools, spending four hours each week meeting with several students.


The program is a win for all involved. The grade school children benefit from connecting with a mentor on a more personal level. USF students get hands-on experience performing what will soon be their careers.


Rick Guadalupe and Michael Ithrel, eighth graders at Webb Middle School, have noticed improvement with their mathematics studies since receiving help from their tutor. Guadalupe is now more comfortable with figuring out problems in pre-algebra; Ithrel feels the same about his algebra curriculum.


“When I was little in elementary school and sixth grade and all that, I would groan at the sight of math,” said Ithrel. “But now it’s just another subject.”


Olin Mott, a philanthropist and the owner of Olin Mott Tire Stores, founded the program. As the co-founder of Friends of Joshua House Foundation Inc., a shelter for abused and abandoned children, Mott decided to pilot Tutor-a-Bull there in 2007 with the help of USF Professor Colleen Kennedy, the former dean of the College of Education.


With the acquisition of tutors and 20 new computers, the shelter’s atmosphere made a noticeable improvement. Mott said that it gave the children “something to do besides be mad at themselves and mad at their parents,” and they could instead build their self-esteem.


The positive change in the children encouraged Mott to try the program at other schools. He proposed the idea to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a crime prevention tool, explaining how students’ focus can shift from acting out to improving self. Tutor-a-Bull was tested a year later at three schools, and they all experienced similar results to those at Joshua House.


Mott would like to see the program expand across the country. One of the schools in the program went from a C rating to an A rating. One of the children earned a place on the honor roll; another received a presidential citation. Since its inception, more than 500 USF students have been involved in the program, and more than 1,500 Hillsborough County students have received tutoring.


“It’s important that the teacher focuses on the child and not give up. Don’t give up,” Mott said.


Catherine Jerez and Tiffany Dick, tutors in the program, would both like to see all of their young students open up more as the semester continues. Sometimes students are very quiet at first and do not want to ask for help, but as Jerez described, there is always something with which they can help.


Jerez is going to be a physical education teacher, and she feels the Tutor-a-Bull program provides her valuable experience. Tutoring allows her to monitor students and adapt her lesson plans to their levels, whether academic or physical.


Dick has been a tutor in the program for four years.


“It just lets me know more and more that this is what I want to do with my life,” she said.


Webb Middle School’s Tutor-a-Bull liaison Desiree Daerr can attest to the positive outcomes she’s seen from the program. She believes that the tutors have encouraged the students more than they realize, having noticed that they enjoy coming to school more now that their days are a little bit easier.


The boys said that they don’t feel that being tutored in math has helped them with anything outside of the classroom, but Daerr feels differently. In sports, she said, leaders on the field need confidence. Building confidence within you and within the classroom may be the first step for some people.


Guadalupe can relate. He plays basketball and wants to someday play professionally. He also wants to do well in school, so he can play ball in college. He wants the college degree, Guadalupe said, so he has something to fall back on in case his sports career falls through.


While Ithrel isn’t sure what he wants to be yet, he hopes to narrow it down once he gets to high school. As for college, he wants to go to a university that carries rigorous academic courses.


Educators think students sometimes just need a different perspective in their learning process to help them succeed.


Dick worked with a student and wondered why he needed tutoring until she observed him in class. His relationship with teachers was shockingly poor. When she asked him why he didn’t like his teacher, though, he realized that he didn’t have a good answer. Teachers might not be so bad after all. Dick is proud that she helped him to see that.


Mott wanted to help “youngsters” because he dropped out of school after the sixth grade. Now, he wants to be able to give students a better chance at being accepted to college, because they are “our country tomorrow.”


“Just turn back and say, ‘What can I do for my fellow man?’ Giving. Giving is the real part of living,” Mott said. “If you’re not giving, you’re not really living. So give for yourself. Get on a mission.”