Duke Freyermuth has spent the last 10 years of his retirement working to make sure that local students have the opportunity to achieve their potential.
The recipient of the 2007 Golden Apple Award, Freyermuth serves as the Tutor Coordinator for the Pro-Active Tutoring program in Monrovia, also known as PAT. Freyermuth said that he is particularly fond of the program’s acronym.
"We call it the PAT program because it gives students a pat on the back," he said.
Freyermuth grew up in Chicago, but he’s been a significant part of Monrovia’s community for about 42 years: first as a counselor and teacher at —where he taught U.S. History and Teen Values, an ethics elective for young people—and then as a counselor at .
As a counselor, he said it always bothered him that there weren’t enough affordable resources available for the students who needed tutoring. After he retired, Freyermuth sat down with Joel Shawn, who was the Assistant Superintendent in the Monrovia School District at that time, and Joanne Spring, who was then the president of Monrovia Reads, to try to find a solution.
"He’s a very passionate person in terms of providing and working for the program. Over the ten years he’s just really expanded that program and made it happen," Spring said. "He made it grow and expand, and so many reap the benefits."
Although they weren’t awarded the tutoring grant that they originally applied for, their meetings nevertheless resulted in the launch of the program that became known as Pro-Active Tutoring. Freyermuth, who was once a Catholic priest and holds masters degrees in both religious education and counseling, canvassed the local religious and academic community to find the first tutors. In the beginning the majority of the tutors were nuns from the Maryknoll community in Monrovia.
"We started with ten sisters and two Citrus college tutors and two adult volunteers, and we went from 14 to 94 last year," Freyermuth said.
Only a few years after its inception, the PAT program won a Golden Bell Award in 2003. The program has since expanded to include tutors from the high school, Pasadena City College, and California Polytechnic.
"I recruit the tutors. It’s been a labor of love, really," Freyermuth said.
Currently, tutors in the program include nuns from Maryknoll, volunteers from the local community, honors students from Monrovia High School, and college students. Tutors are required to pass an interview and background check, and attend trainings which are held on Saturdays twice a year.
Freyermuth said the PAT program incorporates many of the strategies that the AVID program uses to train their tutors. Some of the topics they’ve covered include dealing with students who are wandering away from the subject matter, and a strategy called "Duologue Reading," which has been found to increase fluency and comprehension.
College students from Citrus, PCC, and Cal Poly also receive payment for their tutoring through federal work-study programs, and Freyermuth has been instrumental in finding ways to match work-study funds with donations from supporters to ensure that each of the college students are equally paid.
Some of the program’s recent supporters include , the , the , and the of Monrovia. The City of Monrovia and the have also facilitated an English Language Learning Intensity grant which allows the program to pay for tutoring for English language learners.
Bilingual students have been helped by PAT tutors who can speak Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Romanian, and Farsi, and in the last three or four years, summer school tutoring has also been part of the progam.
"Every year it seems like it gets a little bit bigger," Freyermuth said.
One of their newer programs, Project Pass, pairs honors students from Monrovia High School with middle school students who are struggling academically. Freyermuth said that the high school students are like "big brothers and sisters" to the middle school students.
"A recent film called Waiting For Superman takes education to the task. Well…I am here to tell you we have found Superman and Superwoman in the 70 plus high school volunteers who leap tall buildings with a single bound to get to our middle schools twice a week to become superheroes and role models to struggling 6th graders," he wrote in the 2010-2011 PAT newsletter.
Freyermuth has also gathered statistics on Project Pass to make sure it’s making a difference in students’ lives. A study from May 2009 surveyed 127 individual classes of 37 students at Clifton and Santa Fe middle schools. Among other findings, the study found that 88.9 percent of the students showed significant improvement from their tutoring, and 59 percent of the students had earned grades of either a C, B or A for the last 6 weeks.
Although he’s retired from counseling and teaching in Monrovia schools, Freyermuth said that he feels lucky that he can still be a part of something that makes a real difference in the world, and he is grateful for the community of Monrovia’s support of PAT.
"The thing I love about Monrovia is it’s a real microcosm of the world, I think," he said. “The community has pulled together so well in recent years. The community really cares about each other. It almost sounds like a cliché, but it’s really true."
Freyermuth also said that in addition to programs such as the Peace Corps, he would like to see a national tutoring corps. He said that many of the students who’ve tutored in PAT have aspirations to teach, and some have already become teachers at schools in Monrovia.
"Tutoring is an art," he said. "Sometimes some of our best tutors are the kids who have struggled themselves."
"It’s almost like an apprenticeship for some of these college students," he added. "It’s a win-win."