Tyra Simons helps children like Sahara learn social skills as well as spelling and reading. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
“Who is the current Prime Minister?” The question from tutor Jacqueline Chan sends four groups of children huddling over their answer boards, full of concentration.
“At one time that could have been a very difficult question,” another of the tutors joked.
All the children know the answer but some are unsure how to spell it.
“You can’t just write ScoMo,” a student is told, before a tutor sounds it out for her.
The children know the Prime Minister’s name … they just need help to spell it. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
This is the literacy learning club at East Maddington Primary School in Perth’s outer south-east.
The next question, about the children’s TV series Octonauts, had the adults in the room in laughter as it emerged no-one, including the quizmaster, knew the answer. Each team got a point.
But while the children had fun with the quiz, holding up their answers and gaining points, there was a serious side.
“Learning club is specially designed for our disadvantaged kids that the school have referred to us,” Ms Chan said.
Run by the Smith Family, the club aims to give children the extra help they can’t get from their parents at home and to instil an interest in learning at an early age.
“I think we have got mostly feedback from parents that students who have attended learning club are more enthusiastic with reading,” Ms Chan said.
“They take more interest in their work.
“You see that some kids actually come in with their homework and they’re actually keen to consult us on helping them complete it.
“I think that’s really important, because you seldom find kids being engaged with their learning after school hours.”
The learning clubs rely on volunteer tutors and strive to have one tutor for every four pupils.
Organisers, however, say they don’t have enough volunteers to run as many after-school sessions as they would like and have appealed for more help.
Tyra Simons, 20, is studying physiology at university and started volunteering at the start of the school year.
Despite only doing it for an hour a week, she said she had noticed the children making huge progress.
“You don’t have to put in a bunch of time, but you really do see that impact, which is great,” she said.
“I think that really challenged my idea that there’s not a lot that I can do in an hour of my week.
“It’s probably one of my more stressful hours of my week, but in saying that it’s a lot of fun for me as well.”
Learning club is once a week after school and aims to foster an early love of learning. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
While the clubs focus on spelling, reading and writing, the children also pick up interpersonal skills.
“I think the positive relationship that they can have with an adult is something they learn as well,” Ms Simons said.
“You can see them grow and being comfortable to talk to you, which is something that I think maybe a few of the Smith Family kids don’t get a lot of.”
Ms Chan, who runs numerous learning clubs for the Smith Family, said reaching children in their early years was crucial.
“I’ve actually done homework clubs in high schools, and you can see a lot of the teenagers’ distaste — they’re very disengaged with learning,” she said.
“We’re hoping that if we have learning clubs targeted to primary students, it then gives them the message that there are people out there who are willing to help them who are not teachers, who are not their parents, who is not someone from school.”
Tutors learn from teaching too
Ms Simons said she was now weighing up teaching as a future career and said learning club tutoring had challenged her in unexpected ways.
“I would never have thought about how to explain how to use a comma, for example, but you get in those situations and you have to think about, ‘OK, why am I actually using that?’
“I think a lot of the skills that I’ve learned here I definitely can translate into the workforce; I’ll be adaptable and flexible in my approach and communication of more complex ideas.”
But even if she decides against a career in the classroom, Ms Simons said she wouldn’t stop volunteering at learning club.
“It’s a bit stressful but you learn so much from it and you get a lot of little friends along the way as well.”