By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Rick Benken volunteers as a tutor at Taft High School in the West End, but in many ways he is the one getting the lesson.
"We go beyond tutoring," the Cincinnati Bell vice president said. "We talk about his home life. He's had a lot of tough problems. ... It's totally different than the environment I grew up in."
Benken, 44, of Villa Hills, started tutoring last year as part of a program to help students pass Ohio proficiency tests. One thing that impressed Benken right away was how the students treated this - not as a requirement, but as an opportunity.
"I worried, 'Do they really want our help or does the school make them come here?' " Benken explained.
But his concerns dissolved as he began working with a boy who is now a senior. When school ended in May, the youth asked Benken if he would continue helping.
"I worked all summer with him," Benken said. "He brought his material to my office on Wednesdays. We worked on math. ... He's just about got it."
Benken's volunteer work is through Cincinnati Bell Pioneers, a community service organization made up of past and current telephone company employees and their families. The Pioneers adopted Taft High School. During the summer, they help maintain and paint classrooms and lockers.
Benken's student very nearly passed the proficiency test last year; his scores had improved remarkably. The Cincinnati Bell exec is confident the youth will succeed this year.
Without trying to place blame, Benken said the boy's only problem is that he missed the basics of mathematics. "People want to discount these kids, and say they don't really want to succeed," he said.
But Benken knows better, and he has talked with his own 12-year-old son about those perceptions. "It is really hard to appreciate what people are going through."
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