‘There is much more to be done’

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Bill Cesario is a banker who invests in children. Cesario, 26, became a tutor for the first time this school year through the Working In The Schools (WITS) program.

Like most newcomers to tutoring, Cesario, a commercial loan officer at LaSalle Bank, thought the job would focus on the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. He soon learned there are other challenges.

“I was expecting to go in and just tutor,” he recalls. “But there is much more to be done just to get the kids to sit down. It’s true what they say, it starts in the home. If the parents aren’t there, it shows up later. My father was a disciplinarian.”

Cesario tutors 4th-graders one day a week at Tilton Elementary, a West Garfield Park school serving 676 students. He was raised in a strict Catholic household and attended Catholic Immaculate Conception Elementary School and York Community High School in Elmhurst.

He received an undergraduate degree in finance and business from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is enrolled in the MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He is also a member of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce.

“When I first started, I didn’t think my tutoring was helping,” he says. “I would get frustrated. Then one day as I arrived at school, I stepped out of the van and waved at a kid, and he smiled. That meant so much, like what I’m doing does matter.”

Cesario has gotten to know the students better and enjoys sharing his stories with his fiancee. “She knows the kids now, too,” he says.

The entire Chicago public school system could use more teachers to help reduce class size and cut down on the discipline problems, he says. And the kids need parents who take a more active role in their children’s lives, he adds.

“If the parents aren’t there to make sure the kids do their homework, they won’t do it,” he says. “Unfortunately, the only time the parents interact with teachers is in the negative. The teachers don’t see most parents until there’s a failure notice. Obviously that’s not the most effective.”

“The teachers already have the students pegged,” he says. “They say he’ll be a leader or he’ll be at the head of a gang by the 7th grade. Unfortunately, they’re dead on.”

Meanwhile, Cesario tries to instill pride. He tells the students to show poise when they speak, and to hold their heads high and tall. One day when he was walking through the halls, a 1st-grader ran up to him and grabbed his leg. Then about 15 other children followed suit, all latching on to him. “It felt neat,” he says. “Then kind of sad. They don’t get that at home.”

“Maybe it’s a lofty goal, but if they can become confident about themselves, if they can get a sense of their own worth, it can make a difference.”