JPL Tutors Make a Difference at Local School
Jim Chase is one of the most popular guys at a local middle
school in Pasadena, Calif. He's tall, extremely intelligent
and flashes a shy smile. Chase isn't a student, but rather
one of the JPL tutors who head to school on Tuesday and
Thursday afternoons to help kids with math, science and
reading. Chase is quiet, soft-spoken and a whiz at math
problems who learned all he knows from his father -- who
just happens to be a college math teacher.
Image right: JPL's Mary Ellen Robertson helps a student with English homework. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
"I enjoy working with the kids," Chase said. "At JPL I'm
challenged every day working on various projects, so when I
tutor it's nice being the one who knows the answers and can
challenge the students." Chase, who works as a spacecraft
systems engineer, became intrigued with space after watching
a Space Shuttle mission when he was just six years old. But
he also loves education. He's working with a calculus class
at John Muir High School in Pasadena and plans to teach
there later this year.
For the past three years, Mary Ellen Robertson has helped
students with their English homework. She can be found in a
quiet corner helping students with reading skills.
Robertson, who studied English and journalism in college,
saw her mom volunteering in schools for 12 years. "It just
seemed like the natural thing to do," Robertson said. "The
kids help me just as much as I help them. They teach me
patience and how to really listen to their questions. They
keep me on my toes."
JPL has been partnering with Charles Eliot Middle School
since the 1980s. About 16 JPL tutors rotate between Eliot
and Muir High School each week. Eliot's principal, Jerry
Cradduck, says he's seen significant progress in students'
reading and math skills. "The students are getting help in
areas where they have the most difficulty, and the tutors
are helping them prepare for the next day."
Each week, about 60 students file into the school's library
after classes for the tutoring program. There are 150 sixth,
seventh and eighth graders signed up, but they only attend
the session when they need extra assistance. Seventh grader
Laura Viera searched for a tutor to help with a science
project. The JPL tutor gave her some good ideas that worked,
and she received an A. "You would think they would be really
uptight because they're engineers, but they're really cool,"
Students who normally have trouble completing their homework
are now finishing their assignments and having the tutors
check their work for accuracy. Cliff Helfrich, a navigation
engineer who ensures JPL's spacecraft stay on the right
flight path, does the same for Eliot students. "If they’re
having difficulty with a problem, we start over and get
going in the right direction," Helfrich said.
He has tutored for two years and says it's rewarding to help
students complete a project they think is impossible. "They
can always do it with a little encouragement and some
helpful hints. A lot of my work at JPL benefits the science
world, and sometimes in order for me to see that payoff, I
have to read it in a journal. Here, all I have to see is a
kid smile," Helfrich said.
Principal Cradduck says his students also learn about
community involvement. "The kids are seeing people who care
about them, apart from their teachers or counselors. It's
important for them to learn about giving back to their
For more information on JPL's tutoring program, contact Eva Graham at email@example.com
Rita Torres at firstname.lastname@example.org
Media contact: Natalie Godwin (818) 354-0850
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory