Tutors bring lasting change to students

The summer sun was fading as he pushed the grocery cart through the parking lot, navigating between parked cars and the occasional pedestrian. As he approached his car to unload the bags full of canned goods, produce, and frozen entrees, he heard someone call his name. “Mr. Nimtz, wait up!”

He turned to see one of the store’s grocery baggers, a teenage boy, running toward him. He wondered, “Did I forget something?”

The boy looked familiar, but Dave couldn’t put his finger on where he’d seen him before. Breathless, the boy approached him. “I had to run and tell you thank you,” said the boy.  Seeing the searching gaze in Dave’s eyes, the boy continued. “I’m Troy. You volunteered to tutor me when I was in grade school. I just wanted to thank you for all the time you spent with me. It really made a difference in my life.”

Of course. It was clear now. The eyes were the same as those of that insecure fourth grade student he tutored for an hour each week, years earlier. He had grown to become a young man, and Dave’s questions were finally answered. Did he make a lasting difference in the boy’s life? Yes. He did.

Dave Nimtz has been a tutor at Foster Elementary School for nearly 15 years as part of SECURA Insurance’s partnership with the school. He serves in the legal department at the company. In all, more than 40 SECURA associates provide one-on-one mentoring to students at the school, which is among the more challenged in the Appleton, Wis. district. Only the neediest children are assigned a tutor. With one-quarter of Foster School children being English learning language students and 58 percent receiving free or reduced lunches, they experience many challenges.

Troy wasn’t the first student Dave mentored, or the last. In particular, an outgoing first grader named Rolando holds a special place in his heart. “When I first met Rolando he had a hard time focusing,” said Dave. “Let’s just say he had a lot of energy. The main reason he needed a tutor was for his reading, so we would read Dr. Seuss books together.”

The relationship with Rolando grew, and soon their activities expanded outside the classroom to include trips to the local minor league ballpark in the summer. Sometimes they would just talk about things going on in each other’s lives. As the tutoring continued, Dave discovered that Rolando was very good at math and, with time, also became a very good reader.

“I was more than just his tutor,” said Dave. “I will never forget when Rolando told me I was his best friend.”

After several years, the time came for Rolando to move on to middle school. On their last day in the classroom, Dave and the boy put aside homework and just talked. Rolando shared about his fears of moving on to a new school and how things would change. With a big hug, he said, “Thank you for being my friend.”

Foster School principal, Matt Zimmerman has seen the difference that tutoring makes in his students’ lives firsthand. “Kids need to have someone at school besides just the teacher who they know cares about them,” said Matt. “Kids need to be told they are good at something and they need to be given the opportunity to do what they are good at. I think SECURA tutors provide the avenue for our kids to meet all three of those needs.”

The role that tutors and mentors play goes beyond just encouragement and building self-esteem. Their involvement in these young people’s lives has directly resulted in fewer behavioral issues, meaning fewer disciplinary trips to the office. 98 percent of the students who work with a SECURA tutor received one or zero office referrals in a year, compared to a previous average of 4-5. And test scores for Foster students rose as much as 10 percent. “The students who helped to increase that percentage in many cases were the same students who worked with a SECURA tutor,” said Principal Zimmerman. 

Though the company has provided tutors for nearly 15 years, it has been a part of building Foster School’s success in other ways since the early 1990s. In addition to the mentoring program, SECURA provides financial assistance, has donated laptop computers, and sponsors field trips and various cultural experiences.

For Dave, he feels that being a SECURA tutor has enriched his life as much as it has the lives of the students he’s mentored. “It’s tough when the student you’ve been working with for a few years graduates and moves on to another school,” said Dave. “You wonder what’s going to happen and how they’ll adjust. It’s then that you have to trust the foundation you built together and know that the years spent together will stick with him.”

Somehow, Dave knows they will. It was made clear to him on a night when the summer sun was fading and a young man ran to meet him. “Mr. Nimtz, wait up…”