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Maroon Tutor Match - Family Fun Night! (4/28/2017)

parents and kidsMTM TeamParents and MTM tutorsA few Friday nights ago marked a major milestone for our Maroon Tutor Match (MTM) program - the first family fun night! The event  brought together over 110 of the local parents, kids, and university students who participate in MTM at the Logan Center for a couple of hours of appreciation, celebration, and fun.  Basically, it was the program’s birthday party - complete w/ balloons!

From my point of view the entire event was a smashing success that was reflective of the kind of successes the program has had all year.   Congratulations to MTM’s principal organizers - Akanksha Shah, Jamie Koenig, Ashele Woods, and  Ijaaz Jackaria!

For those who don’t know, Maroon Tutor Match is a student-led program within the Neighborhood Schools Program that provides for individualized tutoring to K-12 students out of school at designated community spaces, or at public spaces that are mutually agreed upon.  Students are matched to a tutor on a focused subject area (although this sometimes expands over time). Parents contribute some of the total costs, but the rest are covered either through a grant from the Women’s Board or from the Neighborhood Schools Program / Office of Civic Engagement.

The program’s origin is largely the result of a then first-year (Akanksha) strolling into the NSP office and talking to a staffer (Brandi) about an idea for a 1 on 1 tutoring program.  We had been recieving phone calls from parents asking for help out of school (beyond what our program was offering) and had independently begun talking about what expanding our scope could look like.  Akanksha and Brandi’s conversation led to a fairly quick micro-pilot in the Spring of 2015 to gauge the interest of local parents/students and university students,  and to test communication strategies.  That experience was positive enough to warrant a year-long pilot in 2015-2016 *[1].  Through that pilot - student leadership roles developed, a community space partnership (w/ UChurch/Blue Gargoyle) was added, and demand from families and university students grew.  We wrote a grant to the Women’s Board to support scholarships for families (as well as  materials/supplies and program adminstration) which was funded in full.

Fast-forward to this year (2016-2017) - MTM has a full student leadership team.  Akanksha and Jamie are co-directors,  with Ashleigh and Hijaz leading up the community space tutoring.   The final numbers aren’t in yet, but we have on the order of 120 university students participating as tutors and almost 300 families involved.  We’re seeing on average a full-letter grade improvement for students in the subject area that was matched.    Feedback from local parents and University students has been great.   MTM is winding down new signups for this academic year and will be running a small summer program before ramping up for the Fall Quarter.

The program directors have expanded the leadership team for next year, and we’re all excited to see where this goes next!  I’m personally learning from this experience and thinking about other opportunities to create more student-led components within the framework of the Neighborhood Schools Program.

Living in the moment though, we had grateful parents thanking us for the program, kids & their tutors playing uno and monopoly together, everyone enjoying a meal from Carbon, and kids getting to be kids and laughing and enjoying themselves (note: the balloon artist was event-specific, not a regular part of the MTM experience).

In every sense of the word, it was a pure expression of our ideals of how you can build community around the process of learning


Shaz Rasul ieads the Neighborhood Schools Program at the University of Chicago for the Office of Civic Engagement.  

* Notes: [1] There's some disagreement whether 2015-2016 was a "year-long pilot" or the official first-year of the program.  We'll let the historians decide.

Interview: Alex Peltz

As part of our ongoing interview series, Vo Ram Yoon interviewed Alex Peltz in May 2016.

Alex + Jesse

Vo: Alex! Thank you so much for your time! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Alex: I’m a second year in the College majoring in Anthropology and in Religious Studies. I grew up in a town called Sharon outside Boston. I am really into music and philosophy and a lot of community organizing and political activism. And that’s how basically I spend my free time: making music and organizing.

Vo: That’s amazing! So, I know that you weren’t actually involved in the teaching side of NSP, so could you tell me about the role that you had?

Alex: Yeah, so I applied to NSP because I wanted to work with kids. I worked with a lot of preschool age kids in the past and I’ve been a camp counselor and that’s the so

rt of work I’ve always found to be really rewarding and really enjoyable. I applied obviously wanting to do that and they were like, would you be okay doing this other thing that might not be teaching? And I’m like, yeah, sure, however I can help. It turned out to be an administrative intern position over at RainbowPUSH, which is Jesse Jackson’s racial equality organization. It’s been around sinc

e the 80’s. And so I did a lot of work there on looking at the Chicago public education system. I did a lot of work trying to contact different corporations in Chicago to get funding for RainbowPUSH’s new STEM drive. They just opened a new computer lab in the building.

Vo: Interesting! So is there anything that you particularly enjoyed about working at RainbowPUSH or a project that you’re especially proud of?

Alex: There’s just so many really great people there who have been in this fight for

ever and people who are really dedicated to it. It’s so inspiring to be around that kind of energy. It was so cool, at the time I got there, to see this big, empty room become a real nice computer lab by the time I left. I would go in there and there would be stuff on the whiteboard and classes being taught. Just knowing that I helped contribute to that was so great and knowing that there are people to whom it is making a difference. I think the best thing I did, the thing I am most proud of, is that I actually got to be on Jesse Jackson’s TV show with him. So that was an amazing chance to meet this guy who is a historical figure in American history. This guy, who I think has done so much good for this country, to be asking me what I do and getting me on the conversation. It was just amazing.

Vo: Awesome! So as part of the NSP program, you had to attend a workshop per quarter, so could you tell me about a workshop that stood out to you?

Alex: Yes! It was fall quarter of this year when a woman was talking about the philosophy behind social justice. That was just like really, really fascinating. It was cool to hear her talking about, like really breaking it down into a moral, fundamental level. Talking about why it is important for her. She homeschools her kids and she was telling us about how she teaches them and her theory of pedagogy. It was all stuff that was just...everything she said made me go, “Yes. I want you to teach my kids”. So that was really great.

Vo: I’m glad you had such a memorable workshop! So what do you think that working for NSP has added to your college experience?

Alex: I think it’s definitely expanded my horizons and it has allowed me to really feel like p

art of this community. I think that the fear I would have and the fear that a lot of other people have is that stuff like this turns into this whole “Do Good Savior” thing, where it’s like, “Oh, I’m a college student going out to help the South Side”. But, it really was not like that for me. I really did meet people who I managed to forge a genuine connection with. I felt like part of this bigger community, which is a really exceptional thing I think.

Vo: So considering your experiences working for NSP through RainbowPUSH, do you see yourself going into education or working at a non-profit in the future?

Alex: Yeah, I do so much organizing right here, right now. My main thing is that I’m working on a campaign for disability justice. I come from my mom, who works in pre-schools. My grandma worked in preschools. I grew up with a great public education system that made me who I am. I am definitely planning on continuing with my organizing, my politics. I’m one of those people who, if you asked me “What’s the 

cure to our ills?”, I would tell you it’s first economics. Make sure people aren’t poor. But if education is not number one, it’s number two easily. I think the value of a solid education system is truly unfathomable. I cannot overstate how important it is for people to have good education systems where they have teachers who are involved in the community and involved in kid’s lives. People out there who create a community for these kids and for these families and for each other. I think cultivating that is the most important thing you can do.

 What a motivational message! Well, thank you again for taking the time to share your experiences and I hope you have a great rest of the quarter! 

Interview: Helen Zhang

As part of our ongoing interview series, Vo Ram Yoon interviewed Helen Zhang in April 2016

Helen Zhang

Vo: Alright, so why don’t we start by having you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Helen: I’m a 2nd year in the College and I’m majoring in Public Policy with a specialization in education policy. I got interested in NSP because I’ve always liked teaching. When I was in high school, I taught a lot. I taught martial arts and some math at my local elementary school and I really missed it a lot in my first year here. NSP is one of the big organizations on campus that I kept hearing about and I thought it’d be a great way to get back into teaching and work with kids.

Vo: That’s awesome! Could you tell me about the site that you work at?

Helen: I work at Carter G. Woodson Middle School, which is a UChicago charter school. I found out about it through UChicago Careers in Education Professions, which is a great program. I’m basically a tutor for a small group of kids every week and they are really great. I like the way NSP sets it up so that you get to work with the same kids every time you are there. You really get to form a real bond with them. You’re their mentor and tutor. You help out with their homework and help them understand with whatever they’re studying in that week like fractions.

Vo: Great! So as part of the NSP program, you’re required to attend one workshop per quarter. Could you tell me about a workshop that you attended that you enjoyed?

Helen: I really enjoyed the workshop from last quarter, which was about non-cognitive factors. It was interesting because it was a lot of stuff that I’ve already been exposed to, but it gave both a cursory introduction as well as a deeper look at cases on grit, growth mindset, and the value of socioemotional factors over test scores. For me, it was fascinating because, when you teach people, it’s easy to get caught up in what the academic goals are. A lot of what school is about is not just necessarily about learning the math or whatever the content is. It’s also about socializing well, about learning how to persevere in the face of challenges, and about learning how to learn itself! The workshop expanded my perspective on what it means to be an educator beyond just teaching content.

Vo: In our education courses, we learn that a majority of students in CPS are racial minorities and come from low-income backgrounds in addition to the fact that the district is suffering from a lot of budget cuts. How do you think working for NSP has brought you closer to the surrounding community as a UChicago student?

Helen: That’s a great question! I really like that I get to work in the South Side. I am from a very predominately Asian and White neighborhood, so I never lived in an area like this. There are places in the U.S where people can go to college and still be in a very insular community whereas here in Hyde Park, it is a different place. It is nice to go off-campus and engage with children who live in areas that are different from where I grew up. Just talking to the kids in itself is engaging and eye-opening because the experiences they’ve had are not experiences that I would’ve imagined having growing up. For us, it’s nice to get an expanded perspective on how life is in the neighborhood if you’re not in this privileged school. Teaching in places like this really hits home that it’s not the case that every child’s neighborhood is a safe and secure place. UChicago charter schools do a great job in providing a safe environment, but that’s not the case outside of school.

Vo: Even before you came to this school, you already had an interest in education policy and research. What do you think that, during the two years you’ve been here, the hands-on experience offered by NSP added to the theoretical education here?

Helen: UChicago really is a theoretical place and it is easy to get bogged down with the books and the intellectualness of everybody at this elite school. This school is hard work, but it tends to have a hands-off approach when it comes to talking about implementation. You can talk about poverty in class or economic theory or social issues and have a lovely debate about it. But none of that hits home quite as much until you’re working with people and children you care about, the ones who are being negatively affected about the issues that we talk about in classrooms in the first place. NSP is a grounding experience because it reminds me that there’s a world outside of our UChicago bubble. The people who end up being affected by policy are the ones who matter and the ones who give me purpose for studying here beyond just learning for the sake of learning.

 Vo:  That was so touching to hear! Thank you so much for all the time and effort you’ve contributed to the students at your school and I hope you have a great time studying abroad in Paris in the fall!