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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gonzaga offers free math tutoring for K-12 students: ‘We do it just for love’

Gonzaga University math professor Tomas Guardia is pictured with the “Saturday Cart” he and his students use to offer free tutoring to children in the Spokane area.  (Nina Culver)
Gonzaga University math professor Tomas Guardia is pictured with the “Saturday Cart” he and his students use to offer free tutoring to children in the Spokane area. (Nina Culver)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

It’s not unusual for students to struggle with new math concepts, whether multiplying fractions or solving for X. For more than 20 years, students at Gonzaga University have been trying to help K-12 students in the community polish their math skills by offering free tutoring. The tradition begins anew later this month as the weekly sessions resume.

When math professor Tomas Guardia arrived in Spokane from Venezuela in 2016, his department chair suggested he join the committee that oversees the math tutoring program. He quickly signed on and also became the only Spanish-speaking tutor.

The tutoring program matches GU students with students in grades 1-12 who need a little help with math. It focuses mainly on children in the Spokane Public Schools, but students from other districts in Spokane County are welcome as well, Guardia said.

The free tutoring sessions are offered on the Gonzaga campus from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. most Saturdays during the semester, with the exception of holiday weekends, spring break and finals week. The first session is set for Jan. 28.

There are nine students signed up as volunteers, though Guardia is working to recruit more. Each volunteer must pass a background check and complete some online training before they can meet with students.

Guardia maintains what he calls the “Saturday cart,” a small wheeled cart kept in a storage room that includes supplies and materials that the students can use. “We provide the resources for the kids,” he said.

Organizers do their best to keep a one-to-one student to volunteer ratio so that each student gets the attention they need. Students are grouped by grade level if necessary. The absolute limit is three students per tutor, Guardia said.

Last semester, nearly a dozen students were signed up for tutoring, but they did not necessarily attend sessions every week. “Sometimes we are sitting there without kids and sometimes we have a crowd,” he said.

The students in need of assistance are usually from a range of grades, Guardia said.

He regularly gets emails from parents thanking the tutors for helping their child. “We’ve had great feedback,” he said.

The program still is open for students who need help. Parents can send an email to guardia@gonzaga.edu to get the registration form or more information.

Guardia said he has learned the value of the program for both the students it serves and the university students who volunteer their time. When he was teaching at the Central University of Venezuela, no such community programs existed, Guardia said. But at Gonzaga, giving back to the community is part of the culture.

“I’ve learned the value of community service,” he said. “We do it just for love, just to help others, just to provide free math skills for kids.”

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