Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scholarship Chicago

Last Friday I visited the headquarters for Scholarship Chicago, an organization that helps high-achieving Chicago Public Schools students not only get into college, but also help them financially. Every year just around 100 high school juniors, representing a cross-section of regions, neighborhoods, and high schools in the city are selected to participate in the Scholarship Chicago college-admission program.

Students are notified of their admission into the program in April or May of their junior year of high school after a rigorous acceptance process including being recommended by teachers and leaders in their community, and a community leader. Students then are given one-on-one attention throughout summer vacation to help them figure out what type of colleges would best suit them and what they need to do in order to get into those colleges. They visit college campuses and learn about the basics of essay writing and other logistics surrounding the college application. Once the school year for their senior year starts, groups of five students are given mentors to form a cohort. This works well because many of these students are already extremely motivated and don't really need a big brother-type mentor, but more a resources and a support as they navigate the college-admission process. They also rely on the other students in their cohort to motivate them and keep them in check. This is a relatively new mentor model for Scholarship Chicago, but seems to have worked well.

The high point of the Scholarship Chicago year just might be the college speed-dating day, where universities throughout the company will come and meet one-on-one with students. Students have to choose 5 colleges of the colleges that are attending the speed-dating day and bring completed applications to show these college representatives. Potentially, colleges could give the students acceptance to that college that day and students would have a guaranty of attending that college the following fall.

Throughout the fall of their senior year, students are also required to attend workshops about various aspects of being accepted into and succeeding in college. The students learn how to navigate financial aid forms and once their accepted, how to work with their financial aid awards. Throughout their senior year, students are also given multiple networking opportunities and resources to figure out what career best suits them.

Once students have started college, Scholarship Chicago stays in touch with them and helps them financially with a $1,250/year scholarship. They are also given peer mentors, fellow college students who help the Scholarship Chicago scholars adjust to college life. Students are also given opportunities and resources for internships and college counseling throughout college. So, by the time students complete college, they will be on a fast track to a rewarding career.

The ultimate goal of Scholarship Chicago, is that students, as alumni of the program, will want to become mentors themselves to the new generation of Scholarship Chicago students. This is a great example of returning the favor that a program has given you by contributing to the program once you, yourself, have found success.

I want to say thank you to Chris James, who generously donated his time to sit down, and talk to me about all that Scholarship Chicago has to offer the youth of Chicago.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hurray for another Article about Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection

As I've said before, I love articles about our organization that really understand what we're doing. The Chi-Town Daily News recently published an article about what Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection do to help at-risk youth. The article does a good job of explaining exactly what our kids go through in their daily lives - worrying about getting shot, not having enough money to get to school across town - and why we should care about them. It also does a great job of highlighting the great work that the volunteers have done and what motivates them to come every week and raise money. Hopefully more people than just those who are affiliated with Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection will read this article and be motivated to become volunteer tutor/mentors or donate money to tutoring and mentoring programs.

Also, Cabrini Connections has a brand-spanking-new webpage! Check it out:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

East Village Youth Program

Yesterday I trekked all the way out to the northwest neighborhood of Avondale to visit East Village Youth Program. East Village Youth Program was founded in 1989 in order "to encourage and prepare primarily low-income Latino youth for a college education." They started out in the West Town area, but have since moved to Avondale and have found the need for quality tutoring and mentoring to have only increased since their move. To continue to accomodate the population they worked with in West Town, EVYP continues to operate an after-school elementary school program at Mitchell Elementary School.

East Village Youth Program serves youth in 6th-12th grades. 6th-8th graders are required to come twice a week, either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. The students will come in after school and work on various academic enrichment exercises that are fun and instructive. At 6pm, the students will either meet one-on-one or in small groups based on grade and do their homework and other schoolwork with a tutor as well. Students also have an option of participating in the mentoring program where they are matched one-on-one with a mentor.

For high school students, Monday is freshman day, Tuesday is sophomore day, Wednesday is junior Day and Thursday is senior day. When I observed yesterday, on a Wednesday, the after-school academic enrichment program time was spent in an ACT-prep class taught by volunteers. Just like the elementary schoolers, at 6pm, the high schoolers meet with one-on-one or small-group tutors to work on their homework. They also have the option of having a one-on-one mentor that they meet with outside of the program.

Since East Village Youth Program's primary focus is on college admission and completion, they have a variety of programs to help their students both get in to college and be successful in college. Every mentor of a junior in high school is required to help them complete an ACT-study program. Students also have an option in participating in a variety of career-preparation workshops focusing on job interviewing, work-appropriate attire, resume-building etc. The students who participate in this program then get to do job shadowing in professions they're interested in.

What makes East Village Youth Program most unique, however, is their college program. A problem with many low-income youth is not getting into college but staying in college. In order to combat the college-dropout rate of their students, EVYP has a college program as well where students have to mail in their report cards, check in with a counselor at EVYP and participate in workshops that happen during school vacation time. Alumni of EVYP also must come back to speak to the students or help out with the program in some way. This is a great way to create a base of committed alumni who stay in touch with the program in the years after their graduation.

So, to Katherine Moone (pictured in the top photo, on the left), Sarah Bird, and Jane Napoli (they're in the bottom photo, left to right respictively) and all the kids at East Village Youth Program who I met - Thank you for allowing me to come in and observe and have fun with the kids. You guys have an awesome program!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church

Last Thursday, I visited Chicago Lights One-on-One Tutoring and Mentoring Program at Fourth Presbyterian Church, just off of N. Michigan Ave.. Alex Cornwell and Stacy Jackson graciously received me even with a huge turnout of new volunteers (which is a good thing!) Chicago Lights and Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection have collaborated on many things including the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference and the Tutor Training Conference.

Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian has been around for more 40 years. A very long time by any standards, but an especially long time for a tutoring program to grow and prosper. And grow and prosper is what Chicago Lights has been doing, with now 400 students, a good majority from the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects and the surrounding areas, ranging from grades 1-12, and 482 volunteers, mostly one-on-one tutor-mentors.

Tutoring at Chicago Lights occurs Monday through Thursday evenings, starting out with a free, warm meal. The kids then have a choice of going to art, music, or martial arts before starting tutoring. I think this is a great way to help the kids focus on their schoolwork by having them eat and be active after school first and is a great model for other programs. The kids then sit down with their one-on-one tutors at 6pm and work until 7:30. There are always substitute tutors available if a student's tutor does not show up.

Chicago Lights does a great job of using the resources of the surrounding neighborhoods by having students from DePaul University come in for course credit and be substitute volunteer tutor-mentors or supervisors at the dinner hour. This is a great example of how a tutoring and mentoring organization such as Chicago Lights and a nearby university, such as DePaul can team up and benefit each other.

Another part of the Chicago Lights program that I was especially impressed with was their summer high school internship program. Starting in January, high school students and their tutors attend workshops on resume-writing, job interviewing, job search tools and other information on how to be successful in your first job. During the summer, students are placed in eight-week, sixteen hours-a-week internships at a variety of workplaces. For some it's a way to explore a career they're interested in, for others it's their first chance at finding out what happens in the working world. It's another wonderful example of why we think so highly of Chicago Lights. This program truly exemplifies their mission of "Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through Education."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Article in The Loop

Like I've said before, I've always loved when people totally get the purpose of Tutor/Mentor Connection. That's why yesterday, I was so happy to see this great article in The Loop talking about how Tutor/Mentor Connection's model for helping kids is a great example for other non-profits and businesses. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tutor/Mentor Conference Planning Committee

May might seem like a long time away, but it's sooner than you think! In the effort to make this May's Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, Angel Diaz of Midtown and I have brought together various leaders of tutoring and mentoring programs to discuss how we can make the conference better. We have had two meetings where a variety of topics were discussed.

The first order of business that we all felt was important was bringing up the number of attendees. While I was very pleased with the number of people who came to the one-day conference in November, increasing the number as well as variety of attendees is always a worthwhile goal. While it would be nice to not have to charge a fee for admission, we need to do it to cover those people who would not be able to afford attending the conference without at scholarship, as well as other conference fees. An excellent idea that was put forward was to give discounts to organizations that brought two or more staff members to the conference.

Another key part of boosting numbers discussed at both meetings was the need for a good keynote speaker or even just a few really outstanding workshop topics. This would be a good way to advertise the conference once we start sending out e-mails and inviting people. We also thought it would be a good idea to reach out to organizations other than tutoring and mentoring organizations, such as universities, hospitals, and other businesses that have a vested interest in the community.

A second topic we touched on was whether or not to have a theme for the conference. What people found to be an even better idea than a theme for the entire conference, was to have a theme for certain tracts for workshops. A great idea that was proposed was to have a session devoted entirely to problems, strategies and solutions of the different positions at tutoring and mentoring organizations. So, all the executive directors would be in one workshop, all of the development/fundraising coordinators would be another, etc. The sessions would be facilitated by someone in that position at a tutoring and/or mentoring organization and they would be a constructive open forum. The idea was also to host this session before lunch, so people could continue the conversation into lunch. This also solved another issue that people brought to these brainstorming sessions - how to make lunchtime more constructive.

While we decided that having a theme would be too restrictive, we did feel that the looming shadow of the national economic downturn should not be ignored. Instead, it should seem like a great source for topics for workshops. One great idea was a workshop on how to help programs continue to do great things with a loss in number of staff and/or dollars. This would also coincide with how to get people who have been laid off involved so that they would feel like they had been doing something worthwhile while looking for work. Perhaps this would involve some type of pro-bono work such as statisticians helping programs chart progress, or accountants helping programs with their finances.

A final topic that everyone seemed to like is the idea of bringing back awards for excellent programs. This was done at the inception of the conference, and out of this idea was the partnership with the now Sun-Times Judge Marovitz Lawyers Lend-A-Hand to Youth Program. What sprung out of this idea included awarding outstanding tutor-tutee pairs, mentor-mentee pairs, and outstanding politicians who've done the most work to promote tutoring and mentoring.

I want to especially thank Angel Diaz for all of the hard work and enthusiasm he took into planning these two meetings. Thanks also to Alex Cornwell from Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Kim Forehand from Brain Boosters at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Jennifer Bricker and Devon Lovell from Family Matters, Mara O'Brien and Kait Steele from 826 CHI, Katherine Moone from East Village Youth Program, Bart Phillips from Community Building Tutors, and Maya Ashwal from Jobs for Youth for taking the time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts on making the Tutor/Mentor Conference better than ever.