UVA's Day in the Life program brings together students, youth 

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UVA senior Emma Sigfried helps Clark Elementary School first grader Amilyah Brown with her homework every Monday at Zion Union Baptist Church. The church is one of more than two dozen sites in Charlottesville where UVA students meet with local school kids for weekly tutoring sessions as part of the University’s Day in the Life program. (Photo by John Robinson) 

“I didn’t think I would make much of an impact,” said Maya Carr. “I just thought it would be once-a-week tutoring that doesn’t really matter.”

Carr, a UVA sophomore, started giving local kids extra homework help as a volunteer with the University’s decade-old Day in the Life program, which pairs college students with school kids and is mandatory for many undergrads studying education. But like many of her classmates, Carr found she loved the program. She now devotes two evenings a week to her students at Zion Union Baptist Church.

“I like the one-on-one tutoring better than the classroom setting,” Carr said,

UVA’s Community Relations Office began Day in the Life in 2002 as a way to devote University resources to the education of minority youth in Charlottesville. It originated as a mentoring program, which paired local kids with UVA volunteers to experience a “day in the life” of a college student.

Today, it has evolved into a highly respected tutoring program that connects UVA students with kids at 25 nearby locations including schools, churches, and community centers.

Program directors, who celebrated Day in the Life’s 10th anniversary this month, said 3,878 volunteers have given 66,637 total hours of service since the program’s founding.
Day in the Life Community Outreach Coordinator Marcia Johnson said giving Charlottesville children the chance to check out UVA is still a key part of the program.

“You’d be surprised how many of these kids have never seen the campus,” she said. Not only do the kids enjoy the tours and get a kick out of eating in the dining hall, Johnson said, but many of them also find the experience changes their perception of college.

“They see that college students are normal people and they think, ‘Hey, I could do this, too,’” she said.

Robert Covert, associate professor at UVA’s Curry School of Education, requires all his students to participate in Day in the Life so they can learn “what their responsibility is in society.” Covert teaches a class in multicultural education, and pushes his students to understand prejudice and discrimination, and to then do something about it when it is in their own backyard.

“If people are really concerned about inequity in our community, they have to take personal responsibility,” he said, and he is always impressed by the number of students who continue to tutor even after completing their class requirements.

“Obviously our students have the academic skills that the kids in the schools need,” he said.

“But the kids they’re tutoring often teach our college students a lot.”
When asked what she has learned from her students, Carr laughed and immediately answered “patience.”

At first, she didn’t know what to expect, she said, but she quickly learned the importance of putting herself on the same level as the kids. She said the relationship with her Burley Middle School sixth grader started out rocky, but they have since become buddies, and their homework sessions can even rectify a cranky preteen mood.

Carr’s student, Natalie Steinberg, struggles in math. She said she likes coming to Zion Union each week, and that Carr has helped her raise her score in math by two letter grades.

“She helps me understand things better,” Steinberg said, and working one-on-one really helps. “I get things better.”

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