Board goes to market for 10,000 tutors

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Two years ago, the Chicago School Reform Board pledged to recruit 10,000 tutors in five years to work with at-risk students. They say they’ve already met the mark.

While the board’s count includes some tutoring programs that have been in operation for years, it’s clear that the board has increased the system’s tutoring force, largely by paying non-profit organizations to expand their services. As with many aspects of its educational program—alternative schools and probation partners, for example—the board has joined corporations and foundations in supporting non-profits that provide extra services to schools.

This school year, the board distributed $1.5 million in tutoring and mentoring grants to 23 non-profits that responded to a request for proposals, or RFP, reports Blondean Davis, chief of schools and regions. Next year, it plans to distribute $2.5 million, she says.

Tutoring programs differ

The largest grant this year was $280,000 to the Big Shoulders Program, which funnels stipends to Catholic school students who tutor in the public schools, according to a Catalyst review of Reform Board reports. The smallest was $5,500 to the Darryl Stingley Youth Foundation, which underwrites tutoring at Ryerson Elementary School in Humboldt Park.

“All of these programs are different and do different things,” says Davis. “The only thing we looked for in the RFP is that they be cohesive with our mission, which is to improve student achievement and help raise the self-esteem of our students.”

For the most part, the board’s money pays for training, materials and transportation.

The board also has called on churches to step up. “We’ve got some churches, like the Church of God in Christ, that have started new tutoring programs,” says Jeanette Wilson, director of the school system’s Interfaith Community Partnership. “But beyond that, I can’t tell you just how many more, we’re just starting to do a tally.”

Further, the administration has asked area teacher education programs to recruit education majors as tutors for students who have been retained. Have they?

College and high school students also are being recruited to help out during summer school. “This summer we’ll have 250 college students working specifically with 1st- and 2nd-graders,” Davis reports.

The 10,000 Tutors program grew out of the CPS Tutorial Academy, a $4.1 million effort that initially used the Sylvan Learning Systems to train high school students to tutor their peers. “This program is still going on in some high schools,” says Yvonne Jones, project manager in the Office of Schools and Regions.

Organizations receiving board grants say they couldn’t do the work without them.

Time Dollar program

“There’s no way we could run this program without funds from Chicago Public Schools,” says Calvin Pearce, Chicago director of the Time Dollar Institute, a cross-age peer tutoring program that also operates in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The board’s grant was $150,000.

Through Time Dollar, students become tutors to younger students and earn “time dollars” to buy recycled computers to take home. In addition, students get the opportunity to learn how to diagnose, refurbish and service recycled computers. This year, 650 students in 10 schools are part of the program.

“First, we could never afford a warehouse to store all our computers,” says Pearce. “In addition, it takes money and manpower to move those things around.” So far, some 1,200 computers have been donated by the Chicago Public Schools, law firms, government offices and individuals. For next year, two Chicago-area law firms plan to donate 2,100, and Daley College is expected to donate 30.

“We have also heard from Chicago Public Schools again, as well as the City of Chicago and Chicago City Colleges,” says Pearce.

Helen Batson, principal of Parker Elementary in Englewood, says the program has been very successful at her school. “We have about 150 to 200 students with computers in their homes,” she says. “This neighborhood is 93 percent low income. There’s no other way they would have gotten them.”

In addition, Batson says while students have been working to get computers, they have fallen into a pattern of working with each other and completing homework, which they weren’t doing before. “They set their own agenda now,” she says with a laugh. “I have about 40 to 50 students who meet after school for about an hour, four days a week to work with each other. It’s almost a habit now.”

A.C.E.S. program

Athletes Committed to Educating Students (A.C.E.S.), a national after-school mentoring and tutoring program that uses a sports-based curriculum, received $125,000. Once a week, college students and young professionals work with a total of 80 students, 20 each from Brown, Burley, Corkery and Carson elementary schools. Once a month, guest athletes lead an educational activity.

The program started four years ago in St. Paul, Minn., expanded to Boston, Mass. and arrived in Chicago last October. “We wanted to be in a bigger city where the need was greater,” says Jennifer Wennig, an A.C.E.S. coordinator. “This gives us an opportunity to test this market and see if we can be successful in other large cities.”

MidAmerica Leadership Foundation program

Similarly, a board grant added the Chicago public schools to the work of the MidAmerica Leadership Foundation, whose focus is helping new and emerging ministries and foundations develop and train executive boards. Now it has 92 tutors working with 200 students.

“Under 10,000 Tutors, we have a program called Super Saturday,” says Cheryl Cornelius, the foundation’s director of volunteer programs. “Children from elementary public schools near our churches receive tutoring on Saturday from members of the church and residents of senior citizen homes.”

MidAmerica has received $50,000 for each of the last two years; the money goes for staff salaries, supplies and lunches for the children. Additional funding comes from churches.

Midtown Educational Foundation program

The MidTown Educational Foundation has been around for 33 years and has been tutoring public school students since 1989 at two centers in Bucktown and the Near West Side. Last year, it received board funding for the first time ($30,000); it used the money to recruit 178 tutors, mainly college students and young professionals but also some high school students. This year, it got $50,000, and it now has 212 tutors.

Darryl Stingley Foundation program

The Darryl Stingley Youth Foundation, which is headed by the former New England Patriots football player, received $5,500 to supplement a tutoring and mentoring program at Ryerson Elementary. The board’s money is used to transport Ryerson students to Orr High School, where they are tutored three days a week by students in the Future Teachers of America program.

“I grew up on the west side of Chicago,” says Stingley. “I want to give back to the community where I see the greatest need. I want to teach children the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol and at the same time teach them responsibility, how to set goals, develop positive relationships and finish what they start.”

Loyola’s Academic Coaching program

A CPS grant created a tutoring program for Goldblatt Elementary School in West Garfield Park. Under the program, teacher education students at Loyola University tutor 7th- and 8th-graders in reading and math. Each semester, they work with students one hour a day, three days a week; they’re paid $10 an hour or receive credit for required clinical work.

“The Chicago Public Schools is our only source of funding,” says Pam Nesselrodt, coordinator of the Academic Coaching Program at Loyola. “That grant [$25,000] provides transportation to and from the school, and without transportation, I think I’d have a pretty hard time to get students to sign up because of safety issues. I doubt if they’d be willing to travel to the neighborhood on their own.”

The money also pays for personnel to supervise tutors, tutor stipends, supplies and a statistician to track student progress. Last year, Goldblatt students who received tutoring showed significant gains on their Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, says Nesselrodt.

Evaluation of programs

Tutoring is viewed much like motherhood and apple pie. But the programs rarely get evaluated, according to Barbara Wasik, a research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“There are literally hundreds of grassroots tutoring programs that are used in schools,” Wasik reports in the December 1997 issue of Phi Delta Kappan. “Little attention has been paid to evaluating or disseminating the programs. Thus many programs are now being implemented across school districts with little evidence of their effectiveness.”

In her own studies, Wasik found four elements of a successful tutoring program in reading:

High-quality training is provided.

A certified teacher who is a reading specialist facilitates the program.

Tutoring sessions are structured, meaning both student and tutor know what to work on.

There is continuous feedback to the tutors on their tutoring sessions.

Training of tutors

Under 10,000 Tutors, the organizations do their own training, while the Office of Schools and Regions holds an orientation for organization directors, acquainting them with the board’s curriculum standards and various policies, such as promotion and discipline.

“Basically, we train the trainers,” says Yvonne Jones. “They then disseminate that information.”

Also, regional coordinators observe each program at least once a year, submitting comments to the Office of Schools and Regions, which are factored into future grant considerations.

“We observe programs and tutors, how students and tutors interact, how knowledgeable the tutors appear to be in the subject matter they are tutoring,” says Region 5 coordinator Jeannine Jones. “We look to see if students are learning, being challenged and are engaged.”

In most programs, tutors work with students once a week. Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney says that’s enough time to make a difference. “If a child and tutor know what’s expected of them and what their responsibilities are and their time together is consistent, once a week can make a big difference in a child’s life,” she says.

Critique of board’s program

Dan Bassill, a veteran of the tutoring business, welcomes the board’s new emphasis on tutoring but says it needs to be better focused. The head of Cabrini Connections, Bassill has been involved in tutoring in the Cabrini Green area for 25 years.

“I think there is a tremendous void out there, and the only way to fill it is for the board to map out where the programs are and where the need is, and then to overlap the two to see where they need to fill holes,” he says.

Bassill suggests a survey of schools to find out how many children are being served on a regular, not sporadic, basis. The survey would also track use of community resources.

Prominent personalities rally volunteers

However, Blondean Davis says the board has targeted high-need schools, offering programs first to schools on probation and schools with the largest number of students held back a year. As for which students get served, she says, “We leave that up to the schools.”

“We know how many tutors we have, but not the number of children,” she adds. “But if I were to guess, I’d say about 60,000, and that’s probably a low figure.”

“If the board says 60,000, my response is a quote from Harry Truman, ‘Show me,'” says Bassill. “I’d guess that less than 6 percent of children [25,800] are in any kind of tutoring or mentoring program.”

However, tutoring is a growth area, with a number of prominent political figures rallying the troops.

A year ago, retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell chaired the President’s Summit for America’s Future and called on citizens to mobilize to “rescue at-risk youths” through volunteer tutoring and mentoring. Last month, Powell tipped his hat to one of Chicago’s largest programs, Working in the Schools (WITS), by visiting Jenner Elementary in Cabrini Green. (See story on page 9.)

Two times in the last year and a half, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has called on the city’s business leaders to get more involved in the city’s public schools, specifically asking them to arrange for their employees to tutor.

Daley is pushing city employees to volunteer, too, and has suggested a schedule for their involvement, the second Saturday of each month. The first “Second Saturday” has been scheduled for May 9. By mid-April, 25 schools had signed up to get extra help that day, not only with tutoring but also with cleaning, painting and other tasks to improve schools, according to Buckney. At press time, no count was available on the number of city employees who had signed up.

Says Davis, “Our tutoring initiative has probably been one of the easiest, simplest initiatives our office has ever undertaken. People have been really eager to do it.”