Nick Eastman was never a bad student – he just struggled with reading and math.
Nick, now 11, was in the third grade at Glenwood Elementary School when his teacher suggested he enroll in a tutoring program called Study Connection, said Nick’s mom, Hope.
“He’s always been eager to learn, so when they offered it to him, he jumped at the opportunity,” she said.
And it wasn’t long before Nick began learning faster and better than ever before, she added.
On Thursday, Study Connection celebrated its 25th year of helping Fort Wayne Community Schools students. Over that time, about 10,000 students have participated in Study Connection, FWCS officials said.
Study Connection, which began in 1989, was founded by Don Wolf, retired CEO and president emeritus of Do it Best Corp. The program pairs students one-on-one with volunteers from the Fort Wayne community for a weekly one-hour study session.
Nick is now a sixth-grader at Lane Middle School and said although he’s doing well in school, he misses working with his friend and tutor, John Homrig.
“John was like the best tutor ever in my life,” Nick said. “He’s a good guy, and every day he would always smile at me and everything and when he saw me in the parking lot, he would say hi and goodbye.”
Hope Eastman said her son never ran out of good things to say about his tutor.
“He was always excited to see and start working with John,” she said. “One of his teachers told me Nick was always the first one in line to make sure everyone was ready to leave for Study Connection.”
Pair sticks together
On Thursday, Nick was named one of three 2013 Students of the Year for their hard work and continued improvement. Students Savannah Corrao and Elijah Mullis also received the award.
In his nomination letter, Homrig described Nick as an avid reader and dedicated student who enjoyed learning.
“In the almost three years I worked with Nick, I don’t recall him missing one session,” Homrig said in the letter. “He would always fly in with his book bag thrown over his shoulder, dropping it on the table and telling me what we were going to work on for the day.”
Homrig said at the end of each school year, Nick would always ask whether he planned to return for the next year.
“For him, it was an important part of the day, and I think Study Connection might have been an important component in building this young man’s self esteem,” Homrig said.
“I know he loved this program because in our last session, his eyes watered when he shared how much he would miss not being in this program next year.”
On Thursday, Homrig said he was thrilled to learn that Nick had been named a Student of the Year.
“The year before I started with Nick, I had told our coordinator that I didn’t know if I was really interested in tutoring anymore, but I offered to be on a substitute list,” Homrig said.
Then he got the call that Nick’s tutor had resigned, leaving an open position that Homrig knew he needed to fill.
“So I took over. Nick was always very excited about coming, and we clicked, I guess you could say,” Homrig said.
For the next 2 1/2 years, they were paired together, and Homrig began seeing improvements in Nick’s math skills and his ability to analyze more critically what he was reading.
“Study Connection is just a terrific program for these kids,” Homrig said.
Many of Study Connection’s volunteers are community residents who take one hour out of their week to meet with students and give them the one-on-one attention they need to succeed, volunteer Linda Ruffolo said.
About 79 percent of students are bused to and from local businesses for their tutoring sessions, giving students a chance to meet a mentor in the community and learn about local career opportunities.
Ruffolo, who works at IPFW as the executive director of development, has been involved with Study Connection since its inception.
“It’s a very rewarding thing, and I’ve enjoyed all of the children I’ve worked with over the years,” she said. “There are so many different kinds of children, children at different levels and from different backgrounds that need tutoring.”
Ruffolo said one of her favorite memories was of a student whom she didn’t quite click with at first.
“There was one child who I just didn’t have a really good rapport with, … and I thought when the session ended in spring, we were both thinking it was a good time to end it,” she said.
But nearly a decade later, Ruffolo was working at IPFW when the student came up and introduced herself, explaining that she was now in college.
“I said, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ and from then on, she would come over to my office and visit with me, and we talked about her classes and her boyfriend and all kinds of things,” she said.
“I thought I’d never hear from her again, but there she was doing great.”
Ruffolo said that over the years, the Study Connection program has grown and changed slightly, but the focus on helping students remains the same.
“For all of us who were lucky enough to have a good, strong family life, you’ll appreciate it so much more when you see how nearly half of our world struggles,” she said.
The biggest challenge is finding enough volunteers to meet weekly with students, Ruffolo said.
“We’ll always have more children who need this kind of help than people to do it,” she said. “… But once you’ve done it, you’ll see how rewarding and wonderful it really is.”