The student-created program provides tutors to formerly incarcerated youth, allowing them to recoup valuable learning time.
Being from Alabama, graduating senior Sumona Gupta and rising senior Marian Bolin both knew they wanted to use some of their time at The University of Alabama to make a difference in the state’s criminal justice system.
The two met at the Blackburn Institute, a UA leadership development program which helps students understand the problems facing Alabama and challenges them to develop solutions. They then created Mentoring and Academic Partnership, a student-run community program that tutors youth coming out of the juvenile justice system.
“When Sumona and I got together, we decided to work with kids who wanted their GED,” said Bolin, a 21-year-old rising senior from Berry who’s majoring in public health on a pre-med track. Students must pass a battery of tests to earn the GED certificate, the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Gupta, a New College social-legal studies major from Tuscaloosa, said Tuscaloosa’s One Place, which helps youth coming out of juvenile detention as one of its services, helped them identify the need for GED tutoring with that population.
“We thought we could work that out so we applied for a grant through the Levitetz Family Foundation, which is run by a former New College student, Jeff Levitetz,” Gupta said. “… we got a $500 grant and then got another $500 after presenting on what we wanted to do. Tuscaloosa’s One Place funded us as well.
“We took the money and got some GED study materials and then recruited some UA students as volunteers, mainly from the Honors College, though we opened it up to anyone who was willing to be dedicated to it.”
Started in February, the program had 10 volunteer tutors and six youth who came out of juvenile detention. Once a week the mentees came to Tuscaloosa’s One Place to be tutored.
Social distancing due to the coronavirus brought the program to an early end, but if public health conditions improve, Gupta and Bolin plan on continuing the program next school year.
“I was hoping we could do a full semester, but I’m glad we got it off the ground,” Gupta said. “We’re hoping to continue it, it just depends on what happens with the coronavirus. We could try to do it digitally, but we don’t think that’s best because every student may not have access to laptops.”
Bolin said she believes the program, though in operation only a short time, went well.
“We got really good feedback from the students about it,” she said. “Ending it early was not something we wanted to do, but we had to for everyone’s safety. We’re surprised by how many people wanted to get involved in this, especially since it was a passion project for us.”
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.