BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Dedicated: That’s Niskayuna High School student Rea Mittal in one word.
The 18-year-old senior is a month away from graduation, but she still shows up at her middle school, Van Antwerp, twice weekly to act as a tutor. She’s been helping seventh-graders finish their homework on a regular basis ever since she started high school.
“I’d walk through snow and stuff,” she said. “It’s like a 10-minute walk.”
Originally, she got involved with academic coaching by joining the Tutoring Club at the high school, which helps out lots of younger students. She’s since gotten her driver’s license, which makes the trip a bit easier.
Mittal is also a senior Girl Scout, having reached the highest possible level in the organization. She joined the Scouts in third grade, and has kept the friends she made years ago.
“A lot of volunteering comes from that,” Mittal said.
She and her troop will celebrate their achievement later this summer by visiting Savannah, Georgia, the birthplace of the Girl Scouts organization, before they split up for college.
Even in rowing, a sport she gave up this spring after participating since the sixth grade, the exception proves the rule: Mittal left the sport only because she felt she had too many things going on to do a good job with all of them.
“It’s a really nice team culture,” she said.
Before leaving the team, she practiced 15 hours each week and still found time for other activities. Tutoring and Girl Scouts are the ones that take up the most time, but she’s been a part of other clubs at the high school, too.
Mittal’s persistence with students at Van Antwerp inspired school counselor Kevin McFerran, who coordinates the volunteer tutors, to share her story with Your Niskayuna.
“Rea has been a dedicated volunteer for the last four years in helping students with their mathematics and science homework,” McFerran said in an email. “In short, Rea quickly ‘wins them over’ with her positive personality, calm demeanor and care.”
Mittal has learned during her time as a tutor that the key to helping kids lies in being patient and approachable.
“Kids who come to homework club usually struggle with motivation more than anything,” she said.
Her strategy is to make them feel comfortable and happy, so they can focus and be productive.
“You keep it light,” she said. “They’re your friends, too.”
She said running into the five seventh-graders she tutors regularly at Niska-Day earlier in May was especially rewarding.
“They’re basically like five brothers,” she said.
When Mittal leaves Niskayuna to begin her freshman year at Pennsylvania State University on the premed track at the end of summer, she’ll miss coming by her old middle school to chat with students and her old teachers. She’ll also miss running into past tutoring students in the halls of the high school between classes.
But she’ll take the skills she’s learned, and the passion for teaching she’s developed, along with her to her next adventure.
She’s not sure whether she’ll seek volunteer opportunities, use her abilities to generate extra income, or a mixture of both, but there’s no doubt she’ll continue to help students hit the books.
“I just really like tutoring,” Mittal said.