Abraham Potts made an amazing leap forward last year as a sophomore at Perspectives Charter Academy. After working with UChicago student tutors from the Maroon Tutor Match (MTM) program, his GPA improved by two full points — an accomplishment that earned him an “Excellence in Academic Achievement” award at last spring’s Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP) end-of-year celebration.
Abraham’s progress was exceptional, but stories of academic improvement are par for the course for MTM students: On average, MTM-tutored students improve a full letter grade in the subject area where they receive tutoring. Now, more South Side students than ever will have the chance to work with MTM tutors, thanks to a grant from the University of Chicago Women’s Board.
Scholarships will expand access
MTM was created in 2015 by Akanksha Shah ’17, who needed a job during the school year but wasn’t able to find one that aligned with her passion for education and also offered flexible hours. After talking with friends who had the same issue, Shah pitched her idea to NSP: a student-led, affordable tutoring program that would connect University student tutors with local K–12 students for one-on-one tutoring after school and on weekends.
By the end of its pilot year, 50 tutors had worked with more than 100 students; last year, 225 tutors worked with more than 400 students, three-fourths of whom live in the nine neighborhoods adjoining the UChicago campus.
Students and tutors typically work together for two to three hours per week, and families pay $13 per hour directly to the tutor. “While $13 is affordable for many families, it’s still not feasible for all, and cost should never be a barrier to students who need tutoring,” said Brandi Snodgrass, director of neighborhood school partnerships. “That’s why fundraising for MTM is a priority for NSP, so we can continue to decrease the educational equity gap for our neighborhood schoolchildren.”
Scholarship funds have always been available to families wanting to participate in MTM; now, with the help of the Women’s Board grant, NSP has created the MTM South Side Community Scholarship Fund to sustain tutoring scholarships for 66 local families. The grant will also help MTM improve its tutor training and onboarding, so tutors are equipped to provide even more effective help.
"We’ve found that, for many people in the city, access to supplemental education offerings can be difficult to secure — one parent said it seems like families who receive help from programs like MTM are working from a whole different playbook,” said Ashelë Woods ‘20, a four-year MTM employee and the current director.
"Thanks in part to the grant and University support, we’ve been able to add a community relations coordinator position to the team. The coordinator will meet with school administrators in the nine neighborhoods surrounding campus to spread the word about MTM with the goal of catching students who are falling behind and need MTM to get back on track.”
Learning the value of studying
Abraham’s mom, Karen Potts, learned a hard truth about parenting a few years ago: “You find out that your child doesn’t really want your help with schoolwork after about the fifth grade,” she says with a laugh.
After Abraham tried a group tutoring program that didn’t provide much personal attention, the family discovered MTM. “Abraham has been an absolute pleasure to tutor,” said Meera Santhanam ’21, who nominated him for the MTM award and is delighted to be starting their third year working together.
Potts says that Abraham’s across-the-board improvement happened because Santhanam focused on boosting his note-taking and writing skills — a specialty of hers, as she’s served as a writer and editor for the Chicago Maroon in addition to majoring in political science and minoring in chemistry. “She really taught him how to study and prepare for testing,” Potts said, “and more than that, showed him the value of studying. She’s given him valuable insight into college and what it requires.”
Potts says she’s confident that thanks in part to his MTM experience, Abraham is well prepared for college wherever he chooses to go (though she admits to a bit of a bias for her own alma mater, Louisiana State University): “He’ll be ready for the challenge, because now he knows you can do the work if you apply yourself.”