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Inset photo: Courtney Gerkin (right) with one of her Plummer/Worley High School students.

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Courtney Gerken uses Spanish skills to tutor students, aid school district

Courtney Gerkin tutoring a high school studentBy Lisa Laughlin

Freshman Courtney Gerken has a passion for working with people. This year, as she pursues a degree in Spanish, she is also travelling to the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Plummer, Idaho to tutor high school students.

“Being able to get out of the everyday life of going to class and doing homework, and being able to with different people is such a wonderful opportunity and a great experience,” said Gerken.

Gerken travels to Plummer every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the University of Idaho Plummer/Worley Tutoring Service-Learning program. She commits to four hours of tutoring and four hours of transportation time a week.

“Because of funding issues, the school does not have the resources necessary to hire and staff a full-time Spanish teacher,” said Joe Roberts, U-Idaho Service-Learning Center's AmeriCorps Student Projects Specialist, and the coordinator of Gerken’s internship. “Courtney fills a niche by giving the students her expertise in the field and assisting them with their online course work. She is also an excellent mentor and resource for the students when they have questions about college.”

“There are a few students taking Spanish One online, so I help them to understand the language and try to make them see that Spanish can be fun!” said Gerken. “Another part of the tutoring is being a role model for the kids and showing them [that] they can go to college and follow their dreams no matter what life brings them.”

And Gerken, who is in her seventh year of studying Spanish, is a great role model for them. But the tutoring is not without its challenges.

“Sometimes the students that I tutor in Spanish can become really overwhelmed and frustrated. The best thing I can do in that situation is give them encouragement and try to make it easier for them in any way I can,” said Gerken. “You just have to have patience and an open mind.”

In addition to working with students, Gerken must do required readings, attend group reflection evenings, write a project proposal, and implement a final project that will directly benefit the students, teachers, or school district. Time in transport to and from Plummer is used as a rolling classroom, with discussions about the readings, daily classroom activities, and relevant current events. She gains three credits from the program, but for her it’s more about the experience.

“I really enjoy learning languages, and I can see myself using my Spanish skills in the real world helping people later in life,” she said.

Gerken hopes to use this tutoring experience and her combination of studies at Idaho to pursue graduate school, and then work as an Occupational Therapist to help people with disabilities.

“My strength in life is working with people,” she said. “I think that since I have this wonderful experience under my belt, I will have an advantage with working with people who have been in tough situations.”

Meanwhile, Gerken will continue her studies at Idaho with a positive outlook.

“Nothing in life should ever stop you from doing something you want to do or think is a really neat thing to do,” she said. “Always believe in yourself, and you can conquer the world.”