“Follow the star rising in you – it will surely lead you to Jesus.”

Rising Stars volunteer Carol Guardia helps sixth-grader Mahiya Coleman with her math during a tutoring session at Blessed Savior School, Milwaukee, May 6. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)This quote from Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, founder of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, was the inspiration for the Rising Stars tutoring program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Started by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 2004, Rising Stars is an outreach ministry coordinating the efforts of more than 60 tutors in schools throughout Milwaukee.

Education has been a significant part of the ministry and charism of the School Sisters of Notre Dame since their founding in 1835.

“We are teachers and educators. Education is who we are. We believe that the world can be transformed through education,” said School Sister of Notre Dame Sylvia Hecht, director of Rising Stars.

In addition to a commitment to education, the School Sisters of Notre Dame are focused on efforts to help the poor and marginalized, which is why Rising Stars tutors work primarily in urban schools in low-income areas. The program serves 13 schools, both grade schools and high schools. One of the schools served is Hi Mount Community School, part of the Milwaukee Public Schools system, while the others are Catholic schools, including Messmer High School, St. Catherine Grade School and Blessed Savior Grade School.
“This ministry began with the hope that it would improve students’ self-confidence, develop their reading and math skills, nurture their self-esteem and strengthen their ability to interact with others,” Sr. Sylvia said.

The program has been referred to as “a school without walls.” Tutors work closely with classroom teachers

Rising Stars volunteer tutors
are needed to help students
in reading or math, at least
one or more hours a week during the school year.
Orientation is provided.
Rising Stars also welcomes book donations.
For more information call
(262) 787-1018 or visit:

in order to focus learning efforts, but the tutoring sessions take place outside the classroom with one or two students. This enables tutors to provide personalized attention.

Last year, Rising Stars tutors had more than 8,000 tutoring sessions, with more than 800 individual students participating.

On a recent Tuesday morning at Blessed Savior West, on the north side of Milwaukee, Carol Guardia arrived to prepare for a morning of tutoring. Guardia has been a volunteer for Rising Stars throughout its 10-year history, and is the organization’s longest-serving volunteer.

Guardia first heard about the volunteer opportunity in her church bulletin at St. Agnes Parish, Butler, after having relocated from Texas to her home state of Wisconsin. She had been retired for five years and was looking for an opportunity to serve.

“I wanted to give something back to the young people,” Guardia said. “I’ve always loved children, and I thought this was something I could do.”

Rising Stars tutor, Catherine Dulan, also a Mount Mary University student, works with student, Nasir Mitchell, at St. Catherine School, Milwaukee, on May 9. (Submitted photo courtesy Mary Newton)When her first students arrived, Guardia guided them through last night’s math homework on probabilities. Seventh-graders Aja Jerkins and Camaya Burkes said they find it easier to learn in a quiet, focused environment with one-on-one attention from their tutor.

“In the classroom, it’s hard to focus,” Jerkins said. “Here we can hear and it’s quiet.”

“Sometimes I struggle with what I learn in class, but this helps me understand,” added Burkes.

Jerkins and Burkes have big ambitions. Burkes wants to be a fashion designer, while Jerkins is trying to decide if she’d rather be a lawyer or an Olympic athlete. Both hope to go to high school at Divine Savior Holy Angels, an all-girls college preparatory Catholic high school in Milwaukee.

Guardia hopes the Rising Stars tutoring program will bring them one step closer to meeting those goals.

“I know that today in many instances, and especially in this part of the city, they don’t have the same opportunities I did,” she said.

Jaclyn Kelly, another Rising Stars tutor who works primarily at Hi Mount, also sees her work with Rising Stars as a chance to share with others the opportunities she was given.

“Listening to my students talk about their experiences and witnessing some of their obstacles to education threw my own childhood and schooling into high relief,” Jaclyn said. “It became obvious to me how much help and privilege I enjoyed along the way as well as the responsibilities to the community that come with privilege.”

Sr. Sylvia said she hears from teachers that students not only improve their grades, but also exhibit more security and confidence, and participate more in class.

“A mutual sharing between the tutor and the student creates an opportunity for personal transformation,” she said.

She also emphasized that the relationship that forms between the tutor and the student can be just as important as the educational component of the program.

“One of the most important things is to have an adult who is consistent in their lives, who looks at them, listens to them, talks to them,” Sr. Sylvia said. “There is an element of mentoring. The most important thing is to form the relationship with the child that is so important for learning.”

Sr. Sylvia also noted the importance of relationships of support and encouragement between tutors.
“We try to create a sense of community and mission,” she said.

Rising Stars holds gatherings with all of its volunteers twice a year, providing additional education and an opportunity for fellowship.

In addition to tutoring, Rising Stars accepts donated books and gives them to students. Last year they distributed more than 600. Book donations and additional tutors are welcomed by the organization.
“Tutoring … helped me realize how much work remains to be done and the importance of organizations like Rising Stars,” said Kelly. “Their work is so important and meaningful. The only change their organization needs is more funding and volunteers to work with more children.”

“We want the tutors to be helping the child reach that star rising in them – their potential – to bring out their gifts and talents,” said Sr. Sylvia.