Second Thoughts: Tutoring program needs helping hand
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
Dec 23, 2011 | 10562 views | 0 0 comments | 832 832 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the past few years, Give Every Child A Chance has helped Tracy-area students turn failing grades into passing marks.

In just the 2010-11 school year, 177 kids at Traina, Hawkins and Jacobson schools have received free after-school tutoring thanks to GECAC. And folks like Amber Baranowski, who teaches at Traina and helps run the program, have seen for themselves the difference a little extra attention can make in the life of a struggling scholar.

“I see it firsthand,” she told me this week. “I see the amazing things it does for the tutors and the students.”

The idea is simple: Pair failing students with student (and sometimes adult) volunteer tutors several days a week — for free — and get the stragglers back on track.

It also has the added benefit of fostering leadership and teaching skills in the students doing the tutoring, according to Mark Humphreys, the Heartland Church pastor who brought GECAC to Tracy after seeing it work wonders in Manteca.

Humphreys sees the program as part of a larger effort to not only encourage achievement, but prevent things like truancy, gangs and crime.

Get students who are losing interest in school re-focused, Humphreys said, and they’re more likely to stay engaged instead of delving into below-board activities.

“A kid with a failing grade, if you can get them back, excited … you’ve got them back on education instead of giving up,” he said. “If you talk where the fire starts, what fuels the fire when it comes to crime, it starts right here.”

The concept’s so accepted — nip it in the bud, a stitch in time saves nine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — you can pick your cliché. And Humphreys has hopes to expand the tried-and-true idea within the Tracy Unified School District.

But before that happens, the nonprofit that gives kids a second chance needs help of its own.

According to Humphreys, GECAC lost the federal grant that helps it pay for an administrator, insurance and other operational necessities around the same time Congress and the president were playing chicken with the nation’s debt ceiling. Proof positive that what happens in Washington, D.C., has local ramifications.

While that kind of gamesmanship might win sound bites and votes for well-heeled politicos, it means the free-to-students program is looking for other ways to keep going. GECAC has already reduced the numbers of days tutoring is available and made other cuts, Humphreys said.

“We’ve really cut back as much cost as possible.”

So the program is looking for other ways to raise cash, because pulling the plug would be tragic, and charging parents or students isn’t an option.

“We do not want to charge the parent or the school,” Humphreys said. “The purpose is that no one is excluded because of finances.”

One possibility, for the civic-minded individual, club or charity, is to adopt a student. GECAC says $45 can give one child two hours of tutoring each week for a month.

And aside from money, the organization could use more volunteers — especially those who have experience planning and hosting fundraisers.

Anyone or anything, Baranowski said, to keep GECAC on its mission.

“We need a Christmas miracle right now.”

Mystery business

A report by Denise Ellen Rizzo elsewhere in today’s Tracy Press details how the City Council gave staff the go-ahead to lure a business to town by way of a sales tax rebate or another one-time financial incentive.

Exactly what business remains a mystery, but it’s fairly certain the city has a specific outfit in mind. Why else suggest the regularly scheduled Jan. 3 City Council meeting might not be timely enough, as Leon Churchill did on Tuesday, Dec. 20?

Here’s betting the city’s economic development team wanted the financial incentive as a chip at the bargaining table.

If that chip ends up tipping the pot in Tracy’s favor, it could prove a huge coup for city staff. One-thousand full-time equivalent jobs and $100 million in taxable local sales or use is no run-of-the-mill business.

But we’ll have to see what kind of jobs they are — and what kind of pay they offer — before issuing a final thumbs-up.

• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at
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