May 2015 Archives

Interview: Sam Fell

Interview with Sam Fell. May 4, 2015.

EFH: Sam, thank you for being with me. Can you tell me what you do with NSP?

SF: I am a reading and math tutor at Murray Language Academy in Angie Alvarado’s kindergarten class.

EFH: And what’s Murray like?

SF: Murray’s great. I’ve gotten to work with some amazing teachers. Angie’s actually a graduate of UTEP, the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program, and I love the community. We actually have one of the heads of the PTO working in my room as well. It’s just a really great community to get to be a part of.

EFH: And you’ve actually been at Murray for four years. Have you been working with kindergarten that whole time?

SF: I actually haven’t. I started, funnily enough, doing the afterschool chess program and then I transitioned into working in a kindergarten class when Ms. Luna was there. Then she won the Illinois Golden Apple and moved on. I’ve been in kindergarten for the past two years after that.

EFH: Wow, it seems like you’re getting to work with some pretty impressive people. What are your kindergarteners up to these days?

SF: So right now we’re working on the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of words, which is really fun, so like the ‘k’ sound and ‘t’ sound, et cetera, and we’re doing adding and subtracting for math.

EFH: And how are you working with the kids on those words? How does that happen?

SF: So we have a whole bunch of games we play—a lot of bingo, a lot of lotto. Then the students have to sound things out, so I’ll come to them and they’ll want to know how to spell certain words, and I’ll just say, “What makes this sound?” or “What makes that sound” or “Look at your word wall”, for instance.

EFH: What’s the best word you’ve had to spell so far?

SF: So, Tyler, who’s one of my favorite students actually, asked me, sort of through a bunch of questions, how he could spell out “kick my butt.”

EFH: So he did it stealthily?

SF: Yeah, I didn’t know what he was saying until I looked at his paper at the end of the class, and was like, “uh, Tyler…”

E: That’s pretty amazing! You just received an honor, the Duel Richardson Award for Four Years of Service. What has it been like to have NSP be such a constant part of your college experience, basically from day one to graduation?

SF: I’ve always been interested in education and education policy, and I’ve taken a lot of classes on urban policy, Chicago schools classes, but everyone says this about UChicago: that you really don’t get any real world experience in the classroom, and this is my chance to have real world experience, and see all the stuff that we talk about in the abstract in the classroom and how it applies in your day-to-day life.

EFH: And then, what are you doing after graduation?

SF: I’m actually going to be working at an education program and educational publishing company, Curriculum Associates, which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping to stay in education for a while.

EFH: Okay great, we hope that you stay in education. Thank you so much, Sam.

Sam Fell is a fourth year in the College. He has been working at Murray Language Academy since his first year. He is also a 2014-2015 recipient of the Duel Richardson Award for his four years of service with NSP. 

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program.

Interview: Maxwell Wiltzer

Interview with Maxwell Wiltzer. April 30, 2015.

Maxwell Wiltzer talks to Mount Carmel students about college writing.

EFH: Maxwell, thank you so much for being with me today. I know that you are a first year in the College, originally from Canada, and working at Mount Carmel High School. Can you tell me how you originally got involved with NSP?

MW: I originally got involved with NSP when I first arrived at the University. In high school, I had a job as a tutor and I really enjoyed that and I thought it was definitely something that I wanted to get myself involved in at university. So when I was in my dorm, I met one of my fellow dorm mates who was part of NSP - who also, it so happens, worked at Mount Carmel, but I didn’t know that at the beginning. And she said, “Well, you know, if you’re into tutoring, you should go check out NSP.” She gave me some information on the organization, so I showed up the next day and I signed up.

EFH: And you’ve been working since the fall at Mount Carmel. Tell me about it.

MW: Mount Carmel is an all-boys Catholic school on the south side of Chicago, as are all of the NSP schools. For me, coming from the Canadian system, it was a very interesting experience because I think that Mount Carmel is very similar to the kind idea that Canadians get of American schooling from the movies. You know, with the locker rooms in the hallways, and everyone being really loud and pushy in the hallways, so that’s been interesting, culturally.

EFH: And so, you’re a first year in the College and you’re 19 now.  How has that age difference been helpful or not helpful working with high school students?

MW: That age difference has certainly been helpful, I think, because it’s so small. I’ve been able to relate to the students more easily because I still get how high school works, or at least, how high school worked when I was in high school, and that’s basically still the same. As time goes on, and as people get older, how high school was when they went to high school changes. So right now, I’m in this period where I’m in a position of authority because I do come from a university and I’m considered a staff member at Mount Carmel, but I’m really only a year older than the seniors. The interesting part is that the students will give me a lot of the benefit of the doubt when I’m giving advice on work habits or study habits because they have a sense that I still get it and understand their experience.

EFH: I know you do a lot at Mount Carmel; can you run me through what some of that stuff is? 

MW: I tutor high schoolers, so I guess that means grade 9 to 12. Besides the tutoring, I teach clarinet and various other elements of band on Wednesdays. I played clarinet for five years, so that helped, and I also had to study music theory since I was in grade 1. I have that experience, and since it’s more than what the students have there, I’m able to share my knowledge with them, so I help with that.

Then by coincidence, when I showed up at the school, they were going through a transition between volleyball coaches, and the head coach needed some extra help coaching the freshman team. I have experience with what a volleyball team should look like, so I decided to say yes, which seems to be what I do whenever anyone asks me anything at that school! I’m now the co-coach for the freshman team, and the assistant coach for the other two teams that they have, sophomore and varsity. So I basically help them during practices three times a week, and I travel with them to their games, and help coach during the games.

EFH: And my understanding is that you’ve become somewhat of an inspiration to your volleyball team. Can you tell me about that?

MW: For one game, we went to St. Ignatius College Prep School, which is like way near the Loop, for a volleyball tournament.  We were down 19 to 21 and the other team would win in four points. Now, I’m going to give a little intro to the story: we did lose, so don’t get excited. It’s not like a pump-up. We didn’t end up winning.

But, when we were down, the coach of the sophomore team called a time out and gave his little speech, and then looked at me and said, “Do you have anything to say?” And I was like, “Yeah, I have things to say!” And so then I – out of nowhere - surprised myself and gave this like - it almost seemed like a public speech that I had been practicing for - but really I don’t know where it came from. I just told the players, “If you lose and you gave your fullest effort, then I’ll praise you every single day, that’ll be all I could ever ask. But if you lose and you didn’t give your fullest effort, then that’s not acceptable, because then you knew you didn’t try your hardest.”

So everyone just stared at me like, “Where’s that coming from? This is not like the calm Canadian Maxwell that we all know. What’s going on?” Then the head coach of the sophomore team excited and said, “You should have Max talk at all the games!” So that was a really interesting moment with the volleyball experience so far.

EFH: There’s no doubt that you’re one of our most committed volunteers, one of the volunteers who is always willing to go all way for Mount Carmel. What inspires you to commit so much time and so much energy?

MW: A part of it has to do with Mount Carmel, but I think the majority of it just has to do with the things that I enjoy in my life. I mentioned that I was a tutor in high school because that was something that I really enjoyed. Teaching has been something that I’ve been seriously considering as a career path at some point in my life so it seemed like the logical thing I would want to get experience in when I was at university.

EFH: Well, we’re definitely lucky to have you and Mount Carmel’s lucky to have you! Thank you so much.

Maxwell Wiltzer is a first-year in the College. He has been volunterering at Mount Carmel High School since November 2014.

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program. 

Interview: John Idlas

Interview with John Idlas. April 30, 2015.

John Idlas with the after school cooking class at Kozminski.


EFH: John, thank you so much for being here with me. In addition to being part of the Neighborhood Schools Program, you’re also enrolled in the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) on campus. What makes you want to be a teacher?

JI: I believe that teaching is really a possibility for me to work towards the broader systemic change that I think needs to happen in this country. You see in the news all this talk of achievement gaps and these are things that simply don’t need to exist in society. You also have seen, since the Civil Rights era, a gradual increase in the segregation of schooling in the United States. And in a society that isn’t really, in my view, as meritocratic as the United States claims to be, I believe that teaching is a really good profession to go into, to have the kind of effect that I would like to have in my life and in my profession. That more than anything is why I want to be a teacher - the social justice aspect that I think can be included in the profession.

EFH: That’s awesome, I really admire that. Once you graduate and you’re teaching, is there a certain age or subject that you’re looking at?

JI: That’s something that I’ve gone back and forth on a little bit. In the past, I’ve worked primarily with first, second, and third graders, and kindergarteners occasionally as well. I still work with that age group and I really like the sense of wonder that kids in that age range bring with them to the classroom, still very enchanted with the world - that’s always very uplifting and very positive.

But as of late I’ve also been helping out in a middle school math class and it’s made me realize how much I actually enjoy mathematics myself. Algebra was something that I struggled with myself but have since gotten a pretty good grasp on, so being able to at least try to teach that effectively is something that I’ve found that I really enjoy. So I could see myself going either way at this point.

EFH: Through NSP, you’re working at Kozminski Community Academy. Can you tell me about that school?

JI: Yeah, absolutely. The kids there are great; I’ve really enjoyed meeting them all. I’ve met kids in all different grade levels. It’s a K-8 school, and it’s a neighborhood school in Hyde Park. I feel very attached to public schools myself and I hope to work in a neighborhood school in Chicago, so it’s been a good experience in that right as well. They have some wonderful afterschool programming, like afterschool academic help, a cooking class that I was a part of, afterschool tutoring that the middle school math teacher puts on, and a whole host of sporting activities and cheerleading that kids can be a part of. So really, a lot of wonderful things going on there.

EFH: And I know that you’ve been a big asset there—you’re a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. What activities have you participated in?

JI: I’m essentially a teacher’s aide in a third grade classroom, where I do anything from making copies to helping her grade—Ms. Smith is the teacher’s name that I work with. So copying, grading, tutoring students, helping students with their addition and subtraction and higher order math skills, like fractions and things that are tricky to get right, things that can prove challenging. So I help out students there and also with reading and social studies. After school, I have done both an afterschool cooking class where I helped cook with the students. Chef Angela, the woman that I worked with, was wonderful and I learned a lot myself! And then also I’ve done a lot of tutoring in middle school math with Ms. Woody, the middle school math teacher, as well. Oh, and also the spelling bee! I was the judge for their spelling bee.

EFH: That sounds like a lot of fun. What’s been your proudest moment so far?

JI: One moment that sticks out to me is an instance where I was working with a student in the third grade class that I’m in, Ms. Smith’s class, and we were working on rounding. I was kind of struggling to work out the details of how to explain that if it’s bigger than five, you round up, and if it’s less than five, you round down - because five’s in the middle, so it gets a little confusing. I drew out a number line for it, and the student was really starting to get it and grasp the concepts. But he was still unsure—he was giving the answers to me and would say, “Oh! 67 rounds up to 70,” but he would look to me for that extra bit of encouragement.

So I knew that he understood the skills, but maybe just didn’t have the confidence. I had him write down his answers on a sheet of paper and I said, “Well, all right, you’re not gonna get any information from me. I just want you to write down the answer, then you’ll turn it around, I’ll look at it, and I’ll tell you if it’s right or wrong.” So he turns around the paper to me and I looked it down and I was like, “Oh my goodness, you got it exactly right without any of my help!” And he just got so excited, like did a little dance and everything! It was a lot of fun.

EFH: That’s awesome, good work on that one! And how has NSP complemented the M.A. program in teaching that you’re in?

JI: It has in a couple ways. We’ve learned a lot, for instance, about math methods in our tutoring course, so in the math tutoring that I do in the school, I use some of those concepts and ideas to really help aid students in learning their basic math facts. Then the students gradually and continually build on those basic facts to understand higher-order thinking about mathematics. I’ve been able to test out my abilities to teach those things in the classroom while tutoring which has been great. I get to practice little strategies that really I wish had been explicitly taught to me. It gives me practice to teach those as well.

Also at UTEP, as a part of our coursework, we visit many schools here in Chicago, ranging from neighborhood schools to charters to turnaround schools, just the whole gamut. But it’s always, a short visit that we’re there, and so we just get a snapshot into what’s going on at the school. Working at Kozminski has given me the opportunity to see a school in more depth, like what really goes on and what it means to teach in a neighborhood public school, which is what I hope to go on to do myself. I would say in that regard it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me.

EFH: And then can we expect to see you working in a neighborhood school in Chicago after you graduate?

JI: Absolutely! I feel very strongly about public education. I believe public education is a human right. You see in the research that a really important aspect of schools and the school environment is having teachers that are consistently in the same school. They become like an anchor for the students there, adding a degree of continuity or familiarity to the school. Unfortunately what you see in a lot of urban schools is that the turnover rate is just enormous, right, something like 50 percent of teachers are gone after a five-year period. I certainly intend to teach in Chicago for at least that five years, and hopefully further into the future. 

John Idlas is a first year graduate student in the Urban Teacher Education Program. He has been working at Kozminski Community Academy since November 2014. He is also a 2014-2015 recipient of the Above and Beyond Award for Outstanding Service for his work at Kozminski. 

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program. 


Interview: Tanvi Mago

Interview with Tanvi Mago.  April 29, 2015

EFH: I’ve invited you to come share your story because you’ve been with NSP for four years, so that means you are a recipient of the Duel Richardson Four Year Service Award—congratulations on that! Can you tell me about what you’ve been doing with NSP these past few years?

TM: I started out working for my first two years at Emmett Till Academy. Then I transitioned to Bret Harte, where I work now. At Till, I worked with first and second graders and at Bret Harte, I’m working with middle schoolers.

EFH: So, Till and Bret Harte are both elementary schools, but first and second grade can be very different from middle school. Can you describe the differences between teaching those ages?

TM: I think that younger students can be a lot harder to control, but often are much more easily able to open up to you, more trusting of someone new. On the other hand, middle schoolers are obviously going through a tough time, and it can be a little harder to get past the shell and get them to be more interactive with you so, it’s made me change my approach a little bit.

EFH: And what are you working on with your students now at Bret Harte?

TM: I’m working on advanced math skills for a select group of students from the math classes, because my teacher wants to be sure that the students that came in with high level math skills don’t lose them. There isn’t always time for her to individually work with them and speed them along a little faster, so I’m working with them to further that along.

EFH: That must be interesting because you’re a political science major, but you’re working with middle school math. What has it been like, through NSP, to get off campus, to get involved in the community, and to do something a little less academic?

TM: This is something I’ve thought about for a while. If I could make it mandatory for every UChicago student to do something like NSP, where you have to get involved with the community, I would! Because we all say that we want to come to a school on the South Side of Chicago partly because it’s an enriched community and an interesting community, but there are so many students that come here and then never really leave our bubble, and I think that’s super problematic. And so, for me it’s been really defining for the past few years to be able to say that I’ve done something like NSP because I can actually say that I engaged with the community in a much more meaningful way than a lot of my peers. And as a result of that, I think that it’s given me a lot in terms of just understanding education politics, Chicago in general, and how the South Side works. You don’t really get this stuff without actually engaging with people and you can’t really get it from taking a Chicago history class. I think it’s something every student absolutely should do it’s been a huge part of my experience here.

EFH: And in terms of becoming involved in a different community, that’s happened to you in a more extreme and maybe intimate way. Can you tell me about that?

TM: Sure. That was my first year actually, when I was working at Till. When I got into the classroom - I was working with first graders at the time — my teacher told me that the mother of one of our students had gotten shot over the weekend. It was obviously very tragic; not only was she a young mother, but she was also pregnant at the time.

So, when I walked in, my teacher warned me that this happened with the student and she might be a little difficult today, to just be aware of that. She was at school. And so, obviously not necessarily well-equipped to handle this kind of thing, I went and took her in the group I was working with. And right off the bat, she sort of told me about it after asking me how I was doing. Then she actually asked me to attend the funeral for her mother and that was also…I was really touched by her wanting me to be there and just asking me to do that. And that to me was in this obviously tragic circumstance really meaningful, and so to that end I wanted to go and be there in whatever capacity I could.

I got her dad’s phone number and he told me where to go and everything and then so I ended up at the funeral in a week. It was a really interesting, sad experience, but I think it really taught me a lot of things about how communities work in the South Side. It was really interesting to see how loved this woman was in the neighborhood; the church was overflowing and there wasn’t enough room for everyone. And it was really great also to see the perspective from this little girl who was taking it so well. Even though she was the youngest of a lot of students, she really seemed to have a handle on the situation and I was really inspired by that as well. I think that also in part persuaded me to continue with NSP for so many years, to kind of be able to have those kinds of stories and that kind of impact, in some way. It’s not just about me with these students.

EFH: It’s obvious that you’ve had a really profound experience these past few years. What are you doing after graduation and what are you taking from NSP with you?

TM: I’ll be moving to DC and consulting for the government, so hopefully making a bit of a difference in some place else. But, as far as what I’ll be taking from NSP, I think it’s just the importance of not living in a bubble. I think it’s so easy to fall into the young college student bubble. The big thing NSP has taught me is the importance of kind of stepping outside of that bubble and really engaging with the community in any way you can, maybe that means you’re doing something a couple hours a week and you’re volunteering somewhere.  That’s so crucial to giving you an actual complete experience in any urban environment that you’re in.


Tanvi Mago is a fourth-year in the College, majoring in political science. She has worked at Emmett Till and Bret Harte Elementary schools durings her four years with the Neighborhood Schools Program.

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program. 

Interview: Lawrence Wang

Interview with Lawrence Wang. April 22, 2015.

Lawrence Wang with preschoolers in a Jumpstart session.

EFH: Lawrence, thank you for coming to talk to me today. Please introduce yourself.

LW: I’m Lawrence Wang, a fourth year biological sciences major in the College. I’ve worked with Jumpstart for the past four years. In addition to that I also TA, work in a lab, and participate in assorted RSOs.

EFH: Okay, so you’ve got a lot going on. This year you’re being awarded the Duel Richardson Four Year Service Award, so congratulations! What has it been like to work with Jumpstart for four years? Can you tell us a little bit about what Jumpstart is?

LW: Jumpstart is an Americorps-based program that I’ve worked in for a while now. It’s primarily for preschool literacy, so we work in teams that go into the classroom and enact Jumpstart sessions. It’s based on a lot of research that shows that if you promote literacy early on in education, students do a lot better in later grades.

EFH: Keeping that mission in mind, what does a normal Jumpstart session look like in the classroom?

LW: We go in groups. Everybody has their own reading group; we split up the kids and we all read the same book. After we read the book, we get back together and the team leader hosts Circle Time, which is when everyone sits together on the rug and goes through some activities and songs. Then we split up after that into Center Time, where corps members will host their own centers such as art center, writing center, book center. They do various activities and the kids get to choose where they go and they rotate through centers.

EFH: Through the program, what schools have you worked at?

LW: I’ve worked at Wadsworth, Fiske, and Till, but I spent most of my time at Wadsworth. I worked my first two years at Wadsworth and since then, I think I’ve spent two or three additional quarters there.

EFH: And, actually, the year that you started with Jumpstart was the first year that the program was on the U of C campus. What has it been like be part of it this whole time?

LW: Well, it was a lot less organized the first year when we first started out and it was a lot smaller. We only had a dozen students or so. One of my student co-workers was actually hired before our current supervisor was. So, we had to figure stuff out as we went along and we had to make a lot of the materials that we use now in the first year and the years following. We had one classroom the first year and now I think we’re up to six or seven different classrooms. We’ve gotten bigger, things are more streamlined. I’d like to think things generally go smoother, but I also know less about the individual goings-on because it’s gotten so much larger.

EFH: People who have come to the NSP office have probably seen a lot of Jumpstarters involved in materials creation. Can you explain what that is and why you do it?

LW: We try to put as little of an onus on the preschool teachers as possible to provide materials for us, so we bring in our own pictures, our own posters, our own shadow puppets, our own mailbox for the kids to put letters in when they write them - we make all of those materials here. Some of it can be looking up pictures on the internet of clouds that look like animals, and then printing those out and laminating them. Some of it is more interesting, like making mailboxes out of cardboard boxes and cutting out shadow puppets and making those.

EFH: That’s a wide variety of crafts you’ve gotten to make. Do you have one that you’re really proud of?

LW: I pioneered our series of dinosaur shadow puppets, which I’m happy with. In addition, I have a poster for a custom superhero session that we did. I made a Green Lantern poster for it, which as a green lantern shining its light all over the poster, which is pretty exciting.

EFH: That’s great! Lawrence, you’ve really been with Jumpstart for so long and I can imagine you’ve had so many different experiences. If you had to choose a favorite or most enjoyable moment, what would it be?

LW: There are so many! But I think the one that’s been on my mind is from earlier this school year. We were going through one of our songs, called “Five Green and Speckled Frogs,” and before singing the songs we’ll talk about what’s on the poster, and the kids can guess, share their feelings about what they think the song’s about. There are frogs on the poster so they guess it’s about frogs. So we got a few reflections about how some of the kids don’t like frogs a lot because they’re gross and because they’re slimy. As a biology major who felt like lecturing a bit more that day, I decided to share with them how frogs have slimy skin because they need to keep their skins moist so that they can breathe through their skin. I think that went over most of their heads because they're preschoolers, but I think a couple of them changed their minds and decided that frogs were more interesting than gross, so I view it as a personal victory and educational moment.

EFH: That’s definitely a great triumph and it’s always exciting when we get to see students bring their academic interests into the preschool classroom. Thank you so much, Lawrence, and good luck after graduation! 

Lawrence Wang is a fourth year in the College, majoring in biological sciences. He has been working with the Jumpstart program since Winter 2012. 

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program.