Web Edition

lead stories
other news



town talk


press releases


last week's issue

real estate
classified ads

Springboard's Tutors Help Level The Playing Field

Candace Braun

With the start of school comes the onset of homework, tests, and projects, three parts of learning that often give both students and their parents headaches.

One organization offers a cure to these common aches and pains. Springboard, Inc., is an after-school homework help program on the third floor of the Princeton Public Library. A free drop-in service for students in grades kindergarten through twelfth, it is available Monday through Thursday, from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

The organization helps between 10 and 35 students per day, and was honored in 2000 by the American Library Association with an award for excellence in after-school programming for young adults.

Springboard tutors are Joyce Turner, a special education teacher at Princeton High School and the program's director; Joyce Robinson, a third grade teacher at Community Park; Nancy Greico, a retired speech and language teacher in the Princeton Regional Schools; and Laura Spear, the program's founder.

While never actually a teacher, Ms. Spear has been known as a tutor in Princeton for the past 15 years. She was named the YWCA's Woman of the Year in 1993.

Springboard began 15 years ago when Ms. Spear invited a student to her house for tutoring. Each day the number of students who came to her house for homework help doubled, until she decided to create a formal program that was housed in the library, and has been partnered with both the library and the Princeton Regional Schools since the early 1990s.

The program was created to "level the playing field" among students, to close the achievement gap in Princeton, something the district has set as its goal in recent years.

"We help any and all people," said Ms. Turner. "Whatever they need, we try to get it for them."

Married to an English professor at New York University, Ms. Turner acknowledges that as a mother of three, she was always able to look to her husband to help answer their children's homework questions, a source that many parents don't have. Bringing a child to the library for help can ease the tension between a parent and child, who then may have time to spend their evenings together playing a game or reading a book, rather than arguing over difficult homework questions.

"Not every family has someone who can help a child with a school project," she said.

Lacking Funds

While still strongly connected to the district, Springboard no longer receives funding from Princeton Regional Schools. Both Springboard and Princeton Young Achievers (PYA), another after-school program for students, lost their funding for the 2005-2006 school year after the district was forced to cut off funding to non-profit organizations due to state mandates that tightened the budget.

For the past five years, Springboard has received a combined $40,000 annually from the library and the district. With that budget now cut in half, the organization can only offer one tutor at the library each afternoon, when it used to have two.

One part of the program that Springboard had to cut back on this year was purchasing school supplies for those in Princeton who can't afford to buy their own. This year there will still be supplies available to students at the library, but they can no longer allow children to take them home, said Ms. Turner.

Along with hoping to bring that aspect of the program back, the director is also currently looking for a source of funding to enable students to purchase copies of the books they are reading for school to "make them their own." By being able to highlight texts and write the meanings of words in the margins, students are more easily able to "fall in love with the books," she said.

She noted that the while the district can no longer provide funding, it still provides copies of all of the high school's textbooks at the library.

Another great source of support for Springboard is its community and student volunteers, said Ms. Turner. Princeton University's Student Volunteer Council (PVC) often assists Springboard by volunteering time at the library.

This year, in response to cutbacks, Springboard is hoping to get more students involved in the tutoring process. In addition Ms. Greico will be introducing an initiative to get more feedback from faculty and students in the district on ways the program can be improved.

"It seems like Springboard has helped so many kids," said Ms. Turner, noting that one former student donated money to the program after remembering how it helped him get through school.

Along with the library, Springboard is also funded through The Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust, and other foundations.

Along with Springboard's program at the library, Ms. Spear and Ms. Turner are responsible for founding the IDEA Center at PHS. The Center started nine years ago, after the Springboard tutors realized that high school students weren't coming to the library for help because they were too busy with after-school activities. After having discovered that students had a "free period" at the high school, the two women implemented the Center as a place for students to go for help.

That program has since been taken over by the district, said Ms. Turner.

Another program that Springboard assists with is "Crunch Time," a late-night study program at the library held each year just before the high school's midterm and final examinations. Springboard helps provide tutors ‹ such as retired school board members and University professors ‹ to help work with students one-on-one.

"My promise is that [Springboard] will absolutely stay this year," said Ms. Turner, adding that she hopes the decrease in funding won't take away from students getting the help they need. "We hope this is a temporary glitch."


It seems, however, that other members of the community are already acknowledging the need for programs like Springboard in the Princeton community. This October, Princeton University's student government will be dedicating the month to community service, in an initiative called PINS (Princeton in the Nation's Service).

Part of this initiative will be a 5K Walk-a-Thon on October 9, at 2 p.m., at the Princeton Football Stadium, where all of the proceeds will benefit both Springboard and PYA. During the first week of school, PINS is asking that elementary school students draw pictures of their favorite places to walk, which will be used for posters advertising the event. For more information on the walk, visit www.princeton.edu/~pins/walk.htm.

To make a donation to Springboard or to find out how to volunteer, email springboardinc@gmail.com, or send a check to Springboard, Inc., c/o Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street.

go to next story


Website Design by Kiyomi Camp