A rambunctious little boy walked into the Arabelle Center for Education hand in hand with his grandmother. As he waited to meet with his tutor, he discovered the snack cart stocked with chips, cookies, and juice boxes for the kids and coffee for adults. He rifled through the bucket, grabbing as many after-school snacks as he could fit in his small palm.
Robin Hedspeth, who after years of working with children has mastered the art of multi-tasking, stopped herself mid-sentence to remind him to take only one, in the firm but gentle tone that signals a seasoned teacher.
Upon graduating from UNC Charlotte in 1989 with a degree in Middle School Education and a concentration in Math and Science, Robin married Kevin, her college sweetheart, and pursued a career as a math teacher. After four years, she left the classroom on maternity leave and became a stay at home mom. Yet, she still looked for ways to exercise her love for working with students. She began volunteering at her children’s school and as they moved along, she moved along with them, tutoring in the local elementary, middle and high school.
“I love teaching. But when I became a mom and stopped teaching, I started volunteering and I realized my passion and my heart was in the one-on-one connections that I made with students,” said Robin. “The benefit that I felt like they could get through a relationship, more so than just being in the classroom.”
This passion for connecting one-one-one with students has now come to life in the Arabelle Center for Education. Since moving to the small town of Rockwell, Robin noticed the dilapidated building on East Main Street and dreamed of turning it into a student center. Without her knowledge, Kevin shared in that dream and was ready to make it a reality.
“He said ‘I’m looking at making an investment and I was thinking about that old building downtown—I thought maybe you could use it for tutoring,’” Robin recalled. “I almost fell on the floor because I had thought that for probably 20 years.”
Through their hard work, they transformed the building into a fun, safe learning space for students of all ages. The long open room is filled with individual desks, chairs and tables for collaborative work, and several computers for students who may not have internet access at home.
Robin envisioned the Center to be a free place for students to drop in after school and ask questions from volunteers about concepts they were struggling with. However, she quickly realized that what students and parents needed most were scheduled, qualified tutors to work regularly with children who were falling behind in the classroom.
“It’s the one on one time they put in,” said Sandra Ellis, who brings her daughter Amya to the center for tutoring. “They will go over it more than once.”
Like Amya, most students come two afternoons a week for several months to get caught up. At most tutoring centers, the cost of weekly lessons can be a financial road block for many families. Recognizing that students whose families cannot afford that cost will be left behind, the Arabelle Center operates on a sliding scale. Based on household size and income, most students qualify for reduced rates, and in many cases services are free.
“I’m a single mom, so affordability is very important to me,” said Ellis.
Through the regular donations of friends, online campaigns and the sacrifice of Robin and her husband, the Arabelle Center of Education has been able to meet student needs at an affordable cost. Qualified tutors offer roughly 18 sessions per week to students, ranging from kindergarteners to high school seniors.
“It’s become our motto,” said Robin. “We don’t think a student should fail or succeed based on the economic status they were born into. We think everyone should have that one-on-one chance, we don’t want that to be out of reach.”
As Sandra picks up her daughter, she asked if Amya had shared the good news with her tutors. Smiling from ear to ear, the little girl reports that she made all A’s on her last tests.
by: Anna Henderson