Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy First Day of School!

For thousands of kids around the country, the day after Labor Day means the same thing: Ready or not...the First Day of School.

I always loved the first day of school. But then again, I had great teachers, my school felt safe, and my parents were able to afford fresh school supplies as I started each September. I had opportunities both inside and outside the classroom that jump-started me on a pathway toward completing high school and then college.

As CC, T/MC President, Dan Bassill, discusses in his recent blog article, improving access to opportunities for youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods takes more than improving schools themselves. Non-school tutoring/mentoring programs play a vital role in giving students networks of adult role models, enrichment activities, and quality academic opportunities catered to their individual needs.

Thus, paralleling the beginning of the school year, tutoring and mentoring programs all over the city of Chicago are starting. This week, Cabrini Connections holds orientations for both volunteers and students to prepare them for this year’s sessions. Similarly, hundreds of programs throughout the city are holding their own orientations, planning tutor/mentor training sessions, matching students and mentors, and preparing their 2010-2011 year of programming.

While schools operate in “districts” that have centralized governance, tutoring and mentoring programs work fairly independently of one another. Although these programs tend to operate along similar annual calendars, tutoring and mentoring program leaders generally plan everything on their own.

When Dan Bassill founded Tutor/Mentor Connection, he realized how much more efficiently and effectively tutoring and mentoring programs would operate were they to share best practices and collaborate in annual efforts like volunteer recruitment and mentor training. He founded Tutor/Mentor Connection in an effort to facilitate increased interaction and collaboration between programs and ultimately, to improve the availability and quality of tutor/mentor programs throughout the city of Chicago.

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to witness some exciting conversations take place between program leaders. Last Monday, we held a meeting in our office attended by many Executive Directors and staff of Chicago-area tutoring/mentoring programs. During this meeting, program leaders discussed issues surrounding their programs—issues as wide-ranging as finding operating dollars, wondering what background checks to use for volunteers, and questioning how to use social networking tools to market their programs. Where some program leaders had questions, others jumped in with answers.

These types of collaborations cannot easily be measured in quantifiable terms, but the benefit of sharing best practices amongst programs is readily apparent when sitting in on conversations like these.

As we prepare for the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in November, I am excited to watch as leaders work together to the benefit of all programs--and ultimately--to all students involved.

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