Line runs D.E.E.P. for after-school help

The line to sign-up for the Project D.E.E.P. one-on-one tutoring program stretched out from the door of the Murphy Community Center last Saturday morning. Photo by Bijoyeta Das.

Armed with folding chairs, Chinese food, strawberry Twizlers and blankets, Dorchester residents camped out in front of the Murphy Community Center last Saturday morning. Sitting around a heater and flat screen TV, they talked about the community, elections, the Patriots, and their kids.

These parents and guardians waited for more than nine hours to register their children in the one-on-one tutorial program of Project D.E.E.P- the Dorchester Educational Enrichment Program. From mid-October to mid-May, each student is assigned one tutor to work with, for 90 minutes each week. The program, which was launched back in 1995, has become one of the neighborhood's most sought-after resources for extra academic help.

The success of D.E.E.P.'s programs manifest themselves on report cards and admission letters from private high schools, which have come to view D.E.E.P. as a reliable pipeline for well-prepped city students. But, the line that forms outside the Murphy Center each year in anticipation of the registration is the most dramatic sign that neighborhood folks have come to rely on D.E.E.P.'s services.

This year, the first person arrived at 10.30 p.m. on Friday night, and by the time registrations started at 9 a.m., there were over 130 people waiting in line.

"We guarantee 100 spots, and as of now 50 of them are placed on the waiting list," said John Hanlon, executive director of Project D.E.E.P.

Tom, who arrived at 10.45 p.m., said, "the weather was misty, not that bad." The registrations scheduled for Sept. 13 had been postponed by a week due to rain.

"We brought snacks, blankets and water bottles," he said. "The students learn academic discipline and also meet new people." He said the program is wonderful, and that "the tutors learn something too. It is a symbiotic relationship."

Eileen Cotter, who came for the first time, said, "I heard about the program through word of mouth."

She said, "You mark your spot with the chair, go from one end to another of the line, and talk to people. We talked about what is happening in the community, back to school talk, TV programs"

"It was fun," said Cotter.

According to Melissa Graham, "We were lucky, our husbands came at 10.30 p.m. We came to relieve them nine hours later." She said it is a wonderful opportunity to "catch up" with others in the community.

"It is a great community gathering and we enjoyed the coffee and donuts," she added.

Graham said, "The tutors are like mentors. It is over a decade now, and is getting better and better."

John Connolly, the city councillor at large, brought Dunkin' Donuts coffee in the morning for all.

"It shows how committed, the families in our community are in raising their children," he said. "At the same time, I wish the parents did not have to wait get up at 2 in the morning for an after school program."

According to Meghan Willis, "I woke up at 4.30 in the morning and I am a little sleep deprived," she said. "It is a long wait, but it is worth it."

She said there is a lot of emphasis on reading and writing in the tutorial program. Students are required to read an outside book and write about it every week.

"It was great. My son loved his tutor, and they get connected." She said it is great idea to have teenagers tutor the kids. "The tutors become positive role models," she added.

According to D.E.E.P.'s executive director John Hanlon, parents can request specific tutors such as adults or Spanish-speaking teens.

"Tutors are volunteers who come from all over Dorchester, most of them are from well known high schools," Hanlon said. "The tutors play the role of a big brother or sister."

Tutors help students with all subjects and evaluate the students every week on a point system.

"Parents often tell us what to focus on," Hanlon said.

Students who have completed all requirements for the program win a scholarship to participate in summer camps. A baseball camp and day-trippers camps are held between June and August.

Marcia O' Brien, whose daughter enrolled in the program last year, said, "it really helped my daughter move up her grades, and she enjoyed the summer camp."

O'Brien said, "The organization gives you good feedback, and kids are involved in community service, too."

Students have to complete five hours of community service. Some students have done about 120 hours of community service in a year. The students help teachers at school, serve on the Community Service Day and shovel snow for the elderly.

Charles Harrington, who came to register his niece, said, "I have read about the program in newspapers and I am curious," he said. "Extra help doesn't hurt anybody."

Harrington said, "If they charged, less people would be here."

Parents pay a $50 reimbursable fee. By the end of November, each student in the program will receive five calendars, which cost $10 each. If a student sells the five calendars, the family earns back the fee. A family is charged a maximum of $100 even if there are three children joining the program. Parents also must pay $10 for membership at the Murphy Community Center, which is applicable to the whole family.

Last year, people started camping out around midnight. "So this time, we were honest with the families and told them, the slots get filled up," John Hanlon said. "We do not ask the parents to wait in line, but we tell them-the earlier the better," he said.

A total of 160 students applied last year and all of them were paired with tutors.

"The success of the program depends on a certain level of commitment from both parents and children." Hanlon said, "By starting alternate methods of registration such as lottery or online registration, we may end up with parents who are not as committed as others."

Hanlon said, "Waiting in line, the parents have shown that this program is a priority for them."

Only students living in Dorchester were allowed to sign up on Saturday. According to Hanlon, if additional seats become available, students from outside Dorchester will be registered.