On a recent Monday evening, a yellow school bus stops in front of the Cannon House Office Building to drop off nearly 50 local students, all dressed in winter coats, hats and mittens and many toting book bags.
Although they are met on the sidewalk by a handful of Congressional staffers, these children aren’t here to tour the Capitol and learn about its history — instead, they’re prepared to study math or science, or practice reading new words.
The students, all residents of the Wellington Park public housing development in Anacostia, are enrolled in a mentoring program sponsored by Horton’s Kids and Hill Help (formerly Hill Staffers for the Hungry and Homeless). The program also receives funds from the Hoops for Hope charity basketball tournament and Verizon.
The Monday evening program, which recently marked its one-year anniversary, is an extension of the Tuesday tutoring and Sunday field-trip programs that Horton’s Kids manages for children living in Wellington Park.
The program, created with Congressional staffers in mind, seeks to encourage participation by Hillites by allowing them to form teams of two to mentor a student.
Working in pairs allows the staffers greater flexibility — at least one tutor is available if the other is unable to attend — and working with the same mentors each week is beneficial for the students, explained Karin Walser, president of Horton’s Kids.
“They have a real relationship because they have the same tutor every time,” said Walser, who served as press secretary to then-Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.).
During the sessions mentors work with students on homework assignments as well as read or play educational games.
Many volunteers said the 1-hour-and-15-minute-long tutoring sessions provide them a welcome break from their typical legislative duties.
“It’s nice to step back and get involved on a personal level,” said George Phillips, a legislative assistant to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and one of the program’s more senior mentors.
A veteran of the Tuesday evening programs, which meets at the Anacostia branch of the D.C. Public Library, Phillips said the students also gain valuable experience from visiting the Capitol’s office buildings.
“It’s neat for them to come to this building and see what it’s like,” he noted.
Using House office space, currently the Cannon Caucus Room, provides another perk, as sixth-grader Montae Franklin points out when asked what he likes most about the program.
“When I had a project he took me and helped me find more research,” said Montae, 11. The pair used Phillips’ computer to locate information on the ruins of Pompeii.
Scheduling the sessions on Monday — typically a slow day on Capitol Hill — encourages staffers to take part, noted Hill Help President Nona Darrell, who is also the senior legislative assistant in Rep. Tim Holden’s (D-Pa.) office.
“This is so easy because it’s adapted to a Hill staffer’s schedule,” she said.
J.D. Burton, a legislative assistant to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), described the program as “a nice outlet” for working with youths.
“It’s not as demanding as other programs,” he added.
Burton’s charges for the evening, 9-year-olds Malencia Devine and Monét Young, each list more than a half-dozen subjects when asked about their favorite class.
“I like getting good grades,” said third- grader Monét. “I work hard, like a scholar.”
Fellow third-grader Malencia echoed those sentiments: “I like when the tutors are always nice to me and they help me with my homework.”
Congressional Pages, who must fulfill a community service requirement, are also active in the program.
“It’s a way for us to reach out to the community and give back,” noted Emily Toner, who attends the sessions with fellow Page Kiera Murphy.
The students, most of whom are third- or fourth-grade students, may have an easier time relating to the Pages, who at around 16 years old are younger than most Hill staff.
“It’s kind of like an adult role model, but young enough to relate,” Toner said.
In coming months, Walser said, the program will expand to include more tutors and students. In the future, Hill Help’s Darrell said, the program may also try to lobby for smaller work spaces, which would be more conducive to a quiet atmosphere.
In the meantime, the program is still seeking donations of books, educational games and office supplies such as pencils, pens or paper.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Horton’s Kids at www.hortonskids.org.