HILLSIDE, NJ — An educational movement to deliver free, private tutoring to children from low-income families is brewing in Union County.
Nuno Pereira, a 20-year-old studying at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City, can remember growing up in Hillside without access to the resources that help students succeed — books, classroom supplies, financial stability.
Pereira comes from “a not wealthy background, to say the least,” he says, and credits any success he’s had in school — Pereira has a 4.0 grade-point average at John Jay College — to his mother, who repeatedly pushed him to do well.
“Growing up, I didn’t have opportunities, really,” said Pereira. When students struggle to grasp concepts in the classroom, and also lack the resources that make learning accessible, it’s easy for them to get stuck, he added. “You get frustrated. You get confused and anxious. You think, ‘maybe I can’t do this.’ But that’s not the case. You don’t want children to think they can’t figure it out, you want them to think ‘I can’t do this now, but I will figure it out and I will do better.”
Many other children in Union County, and elsewhere throughout the country, are in the same boat as Pereira was, financially.
So last week, after a visit to Washington, D.C. that left Pereira feeling particularly inspired, he founded Educate the Future, a nonprofit that offers free tutoring to Hillside children who could use the help. A staff made up of Pereira and his peers are providing the tutoring sessions.
“This has always been in the back of my mind, to find a way to give back to the community and spread that message of helping our children,” said Pereira. “I found some articles and research talking about how, when children get held back in their class by one or two grades, the chance of them actually graduating high school drops dramatically. It has something to do with the shame of it, and also their self-confidence. That’s the problem I want to try and tackle with this.”
In less than a week, four families have requested tutoring sessions from Pereira, who’s recruited a handful of fellow students and friends as staff members to launch Educate the Future.
These include Nadyr Vidal Loo, a Spanish tutor from Linden; Laura Fuenzalida, the social media coordinator, who also lives in Hillside; Kimberly Camia, the staff secretary, a Roselle resident; and Weronika Zamlynny, a web developer and programmer from Clark.
Educate the Future is a small operation at the moment, says Pereira, but the potential to make a difference in children’s lives is already on the table. So, for the immediate future, the group is focused on two objectives: Getting the infrastructure together to ensure Educate the Future has reach in Hillside, and proving that the organization works, by helping the families who have already asked for tutoring.
If Educate the Future can meet those two objectives, says Pereira, then he’ll set his sights on grander goals.
“I want to do well. I don’t want it to just be a Hillside thing. I said it’s an educational movement because it’s a movement to show people that, if we work together as a community, we can do this,” said Pereira. “Those are the things I want to target, and if I can prove the organization can work — if I can prove this movement is something people can back, then that’s something I want to do. If it means increasing my staffing to 100, if that’s what it takes, that’s what I will do.”
Anyone who wants to assist the members of Educate the Future can volunteer or make a donation to fund the travel costs, school supplies and website which will enable the nonprofit to get off the ground, says Pereira. And when Pereira says “every dollar counts,” he means it: Many students don’t own school supplies that cost less than a dollar, such as folders, as Pereira found out when he was a tutor at Union County College last year.
“I want some donations to go to school supplies. That’s just one issue that these funds will target. When I worked as a tutor at Union County College, even then, some of the students that came for tutoring didn’t even have a folder,” said Pereira. “They didn’t have the basic school supplies that they needed to do well in class. If you have grown women and men who cannot afford their own supplies, then imagine children in that situation. How are they going to do well in their classes?”
The mission of Educate the Future is to make sure students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, don’t feel overwhelmed because they don’t come from a family with money. No one should be struggling in class because they don’t own a folder, in other words.
More than that, though, Pereira wants to become involved in the way students see the world, so tutors can inspire the children they’re charged with teaching.
“The point of the tutoring is not just to increase their grades. That’s great, it helps them get through school. But you want the tutor to serve as a role model and someone these children can look up to. You want them to feel that inspiration, and aspire for more,” said Pereira. “Unless we get these opportunities out there, to try and help families, then nothing is going to help. Nothing is going to change, for them.”