Ms. Motivator

Michelle Anderson Curran

Photo By Vic Cantu

Many Chico grade school students feel inadequate and rejected when they can’t keep up with their schoolwork and can’t afford a private tutor. For the last year 26-year-old Michelle Anderson Curran has vastly improved the lives of first-through 12th-graders by matching dozens of them with no-cost tutors in the Volunteers in Schools nonprofit program. Since Saturday, Oct. 22, is Make a Difference Day, we thought we’d highlight this inspiring effort. To volunteer, email Michelle at <script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">{ document.write(String.fromCharCode(60,97,32,104,114,101,102,61,34,109,97,105,108,116,111,58,109,97,110,100,101,114,115,111,110,46,99,97,101,101,64,103,109,97,105,108,46,99,111,109,34,62,109,97,110,100,101,114,115,111,110,46,99,97,101,101,64,103,109,97,105,108,46,99,111,109,60,47,97,62)) } </script>

How does Volunteers in Schools work?

We find children with strong academic needs who may be having trouble focusing or need reinforcement in certain subjects. We bridge the gap by pairing them with community volunteers who really want to make a difference in Chico. I am the program’s only employee, and I set up the times, schools and screen the volunteers. We have about 40 tutors at Citrus, McManus and Chapman elementary schools, plus 50 at Pleasant Valley, Fairview and Inspire high schools.

How do the tutors help the students?

They go to the campuses one hour a week and help kids one-on-one during school hours with very basic learning skills like reading, math and spelling. They are not educators, but concerned citizens.

What are the biggest benefits for the kids?

First, they get a badly needed improvement academically because they can focus better on their lessons. They also get a big boost socially because kids who are regularly behind in school often think they are dumb. But a tutor gives them hope and someone else who believes in them and encourages them regularly. This lifts their self-esteem and confidence.

What are the biggest benefits for the volunteers?

They get great rewards. There’s nothing like the ‘ah-ha’ moment when a child gets the concept of a subject. It’s a huge satisfaction. One volunteer, a former Marine, said, “This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

How did you join the program?

About a year and a half ago a family friend and local businessman, Rory Rottschalk, contacted me about helping the community through his Community Alliance for Educational Excellence program. He knew I’d done nonprofit work in Ethiopia, and using his deep-seated commitment and vision we came up with VIS. I was raised here and graduated from Chico State … I never expected to be in my home town doing what I really wanted to do, but Rory caught me by surprise and now I can practice what I love.

What do you see for the future of the program?

I would like to have 4,000 tutors for the 4,000 students here who currently need academic support.