News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 27, 2012

From ‘F’s and D’s’ … to ‘A’s and B’s’

Tutor gives West Vigo Elementary student what he needs to succeed


Special to the Tribune-Star

West Terre Haute — Three years ago, Marlene Abrams was worried about her grandson, Dalton Burry.

Dalton, then a second-grader at West Vigo Elementary School, didn’t know his ABCs; he couldn’t read; he couldn’t do basic math. Dalton’s grandfather had died recently. Abrams, herself, had just been diagnosed with cancer. Dalton was upset and had little motivation for school. He had been placed in special education classes, and he seemed to think school was play time. Abrams knew he was capable of more, and she wanted more for him.

So Abrams sought out help with after-school tutoring at Educational/Family Services in West Terre Haute, located off U.S. 150 near St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

“He’s a different little kid since he started coming to tutoring. He used to be afraid to do anything. Now he’s all boy,” Abrams said.

Abrams first heard of Educational/Family Services from Sister Betty Hopf. Hopf is the chaplain at the clinic where Abrams receives her cancer treatments, and she told Abrams about the Sisters of Providence-sponsored ministry in West Terre Haute that offers free tutoring for children and free GED preparation and basic education assistance for adults.

Abrams is thankful that she pursued tutoring at EFS because of the changes she has seen in her grandson.

“He has more self-respect and more discipline about doing his school work. He is more cheerful about going to school. Before, he used to cry about going to school because kids would tease him and call him dumb,” Abrams said.

Dalton is now 10 years old and a fifth-grader at West Vigo. With help from his tutor, Randi Everett, he has transitioned out of special education and into mostly mainstream classes.

Dalton says he didn’t do homework before coming to EFS, but now twice a week he gets off the bus and his grandma brings him straight to tutoring for at least an hour. Everett helps him with his homework. Then they might work on math facts or study state capitals or go to the computer to work on math games. During the summer, Everett worked with him twice a week for two to three hours at a time.

“I had F’s and D’s and now I have A’s and B’s,” Dalton said proudly.

“Randi and Penny [Sullivan, director of EFS] have done great wonders for my grandson,” Abrams said.

Everett has worked with Dalton since he came to EFS. She is the part-time administrative assistant at EFS and has been there more than 10 years, since retiring from her job as a legal assistant at the penitentiary in Terre Haute. Over the years her job at EFS has expanded to include some tutoring. With no background in education, Everett was reluctant to tutor at first. But she learned by watching master teachers through the years: retired Sisters of Providence tutors who work in every nook of the house-turned-tutoring-facility after school.

Everett says she’s really bonded with Dalton.

Abrams is impressed at how Everett goes beyond the scope of her job in her commitment to Dalton, such as offering to drop Dalton off at home on her way. She has also invited him to her house to go fishing and paddle boating and at Christmastime to make cookies and work on a puzzle together, activities Dalton still talks about.

Abrams and Dalton also feel close to Everett.

“I love Randi. I think she is very giving. She gets through to the kids because she gives them eye contact. That is what Dalton really needed at the start,” Abrams said.

“It takes a special person to spend time with any child,” Abrams said. And when that person is able to help a child and show them that they are something and that they aren’t dumb, that is really making a difference, she said.

Everett, who has no children of her own, says she genuinely cares about the kids she works with and enjoys the hours each week she spends with them.

The place, the tutor, the results, it all seems to work for Dalton.

“He’s excited to come. I think sometimes he talks Randi’s leg off,” Abrams says with a laugh as she hears her grandson chatting away with Everett upstairs during a tutoring session.

Abrams is happy with the friendly welcoming atmosphere from the sisters and staff.

Everett said caring is part of the ministry at Educational/Family Services. “We help with life skills. We listen to problems. Everybody wants someone to listen to them,” she said.

Abrams says it is helpful that EFS does not charge for services. “I know there are people who just don’t have the money, and they think it’s very helpful that there is no charge,” she said.

It’s useful to her family as Dalton’s mother, her daughter, is a single working parent without support. Abrams, as the grandmother, steps in and helps out as she can, including in facilitating her grandchildren’s tutoring.

“I wouldn’t mind paying something. They have helped Dalton so much,” she said. Abrams is happy to help by sending snacks or supplies. She realizes how needed donations and support are to the ministry so that it can continue to offer assistance to children and adults in need.

“I highly recommend it to anybody who needs help to go there. They give them time; they listen. It really helps,” Abrams said.