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Arbutus Achievers Club partners middle schoolers with UMBC students

Both middle school and college students are learning from each other after school at Arbutus Middle School.

The education is thanks to a program called the Arbutus Achievers Club, in which University of Maryland, Baltimore County, students volunteer to tutor at-risk students at the school on Shelbourne Road.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m., the middeschoolers fill up the school library to meet the UMBC students for assistance with their homework as well as encouragement.

"Dealing with the kids is great," said Mehran Hossaini, a computer engineering major at UMBC. "Honestly, there's nothing bad about this program."

On May 1, Hossaini was helping Alec Breland, 13, of Arbutus, with his history homework.

Breland showed Hossaini the 89 he received on his last assignment, but Hossani says, "Let's see a 91 next time."

As a reward his work and good grades, Mossaini took Alec to play basketball after their tutoring session.

"I usually beat him," Alec said with confidence. "I'm really good at basketball."

The talkative seventh-grader is one of 15 students in the program who struggle academically and need one-on-one attention, said Shannon Johnson, a professional development teacher at Arbutus Middle.

The 15 were identified by teachers and the administration as students who would benefit from the program.

"We've definitely seen progress with students like Alec," Johnson said.

While Mossaini offers guidance and encouragement to Alec, the relationship benefits Mossaini, too.

"It's a mutually beneficial relationship. We hope the middle school students do better in school but also get excited for college. [UMBC] students get a better idea of what it's like to work in a school setting and figure out a future career path," said Eloise Grose, program coordinator for service learning at the Shriver Center at UMBC.

Grose said the program also gives UMBC students exposure to the community surrounding the campus.

"We want to get them involved in the community and in what's going on around them, by bringing them to Arbutus Middle School, which is close to the campus," Grose said.

The program, which lasts the duration of a college semester, began in March.

The program is coordinated by Banke Adeniji, a 22-year-old volunteer from Maryland-D.C. Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA.

The VISTA program was founded in 1965 as a national service program designed to fight poverty in the U.S. It's part of Americorps, a national service program which connects its members with public service opportunities.

Adeniji, who graduated from UMBC in 2013, said her goal with the program is to bridge the learning gap.

Earlier this week, the students had a special guest — Del. Adrienne Jones, who represents District 10 that includes parts of Catonsville and Woodlawn.

Jones, an Arbutus native, has served as Speaker Pro Tem in the Maryland House of Delegates since 2003 and is the first African-American woman to be named to the position.

Jones has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1997, and is also chairwoman of the Capital Budget Committee.

"I think it was good for the students to learn from a leader in their community," Adeniji said.

Jones is an alumnus of both Arbutus Middle and UMBC, and grew up close to both schools.

She talked to the students about her days in Annapolis and how they are usually filled with meetings, committee hearings and conversations for making policy decisions.

During her visit, she also encouraged the students to give back to the community.

"Take the opportunity to volunteer," Jones said. "Often times, volunteer positions lend themselves to a paid position."

"I hope that our students learned middle school is just a point in time, and it's a time to try different things, stretch and spread their wings," said Arbutus Middle principal Michelle Feeney. "They haven't finished forming yet, and one day they can be someone like Del. Jones. They have the power to define who they want to be."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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