SUNSET PARK — Annemarie Kelleghan has literally grown up alongside the very students she tutors.
The 17-year-old Sunset Park resident has spent the past five years as a volunteer tutor at the Fairview Branch Library pridefully watching young students progress along the way.
“I’ve seen her grow from putting alphabet blocks in order to starting to act out voices when she’s reading aloud with me,” she said of one student. “The enthusiasm she picks up from me is really fun to watch.”
Most recently, Kelleghan, a senior at Notre Dame Academy and a member of Westchester-based Troop 287, earned Girl Scouting’s highest award — the Gold Award. She created a series of tutoring aids — mostly multiple choice, true or false and writing exercises — to complement the library’s reading level system.
“Even if they help just a couple of kids, it’s worth it,” Kelleghan said of the worksheets. “And I think they have.”
Kelleghan revealed that she struggled with reading as a child — motivating her to become the library’s first teenage tutor.
“It was hard for me to believe that a sixth grader could take on this job, but she’s certainly proved me wrong,” said Fairview branch manager Sylvia Anderly, who called Kelleghan a “child extraordinaire.”
Today, lots of adults and kids tutor at the library — and Kelleghan’s aids help both groups.
“Everyone can use a little suggestion,” Anderly said. “The aids are an invaluable tool.”
One of Kelleghan’s greatest tutoring challenges is when kids can’t understand something and start to get frustrated.
“I try to find something they like, and do it on their terms,” she said, recalling the time she brought in a cash register to help a student who was struggling in math but seemed interested in money. Kelleghan regularly weaves “Star Wars,” “Hannah Montana” and race cars into her tutoring sessions to keep kids interested. “Tutoring shouldn’t be an extension of school.”
Anderly said this kind of innovation is what makes Kelleghan such a great tutor.
“She has the ability to make a child feel comfortable, and she always comes prepared,” Anderly said. “She has a tremendous amount of maturity and the natural skill of being a teacher.”
Kelleghan is a third generation Santa Monican. Outside of Santa Monica, one of Kelleghan’s favorite hobbies is traveling.
“I want to go everywhere,” she said. “I love going to the airport — even that is exciting,”
In 2007, she visited Hungary — where she stayed with family friends — and Romania — where she worked at a summer camp with local children. Kelleghan was adamant about her desire to avoid hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants that serve American food.
“I’m not good with spicy food yet,” she said. “I think a trip to India is in order.”
Last summer, the troop traveled to Washington state, where they toured Seattle, Olympic National Park and Forks — the setting of the popular “Twilight” book and movie series.
“It was an accident, but since we’ve all read the books we were really excited,” said troop 287 member Clare LeDuff.
Despite her desire to see the world, Kelleghan hopes to remain in California for college. Her top choices are UCLA — from which she could continue tutoring and spend time with her sister, who also attends the university — and USC — where she has interned in the geochemistry department since last year. She’s interested in careers like genetic counseling or occupational therapy.
“I wouldn’t want to go through life and not make a difference,” she said.