The UTM student group,  Helping Hands, in collaboration with the Syrian Canadian Foundation and the language studies department at UTM, celebrated their first graduating class from their English tutoring program during the fall reading week.

Mahmoud Salem, president of Helping Hands, sat down with The Medium to discuss the program and what they have learnt from it. Salem explains that because the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program had full classes with many people  on waiting lists, the Syrian Canadian Foundation, along with Helping Hands and the language studies department at UTM, came together and created the English tutoring program.

Syrian students were paired up with a mentor whom they could work with online, through phone calls, or in person during the classroom sessions.

In comparison to the LINC program, Salem states that their program “is more practical […] there is no lecturing at all.”

Students were required to pay a deposit of $20 at the beginning, with the condition of receiving their money back if they attended more than half the classes.

Salem expressed that the Helping Hands team did not see improvements in the students that attended last year, because there was no evaluation system. Whereas there wasn’t an evaluation system last year, this year featured a change assessment methods, which resulted in observable improvements

The students were evaluated based on weekly reports regarding their performance given out by the tutors, rather than just being handed tests and marks.

The Helping Hands president explains: “For advanced students, we evaluate their reading and speaking fluency. We record them for two minutes and count how many words they speak and then we record them for three minutes reading and count how many words they read.”

Approximately 25 student volunteers with Helping Hands created the videos and the worksheets that were used to mentor the enrolled students, ranging from children as young as six years old to those being above 20.

“Graduation does not symbolize that they move from one level to another. [It] was just a celebration of them finishing the allocated time of the program,” says Salem.

Volunteers receive an official certificate by the language studies department outlining their mentorship and the completed facets of the program.

“Hopefully next time, we will have honorariums and certificates to give to the tutors [along with] a good learning experience,” Salem adds. He hopes that for their future programming, they “can expand because the whole idea [is that] we want to provide a new way of teaching language to new comers.”

Volunteers do not have to be able to speak Arabic to apply. Applications are posted on the Helping Hands Facebook page.

The next class starts October 21.