Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have You Registered?

It's just a few weeks away from the November 19th Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference and the details are falling into place!

Updates on what to look forward to at the conference:
  • Waiting for Superman and where Tutor/Mentor Programs Fit into the Debate on Education Reform: Our closing panel will feature Andrew Broy, President of Illinois Network of Charter Schools, Wendy DuBoe, Chief Operating Officer of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Lisa Vahey, Director of Chicago New Teacher Center, and others (keep checking back!).
  • The State of Tutoring/Mentoring in Chicago: In his welcome address, Dan Bassill, President and CEO of Tutor/Mentor Connection, will use maps that show the distribution of tutoring/mentoring programs in high poverty areas of Chicago as a planning tool for 2011 capacity building.
  • Leveraging Web Videos for your Organization: A workshop presented by Let's Dabble on how to make and use web videos to tell stories about your organization.
  • Marketing/Branding for your Organization: A panel where several professionals in the advertising and marketing world discuss how to help your program build its "brand."
  • Networking time and discussion tables.
  • Browse the conference website for bios on these speakers and ongoing updates about the conference!
Register Now! Online registration is now available. Space is limited, so be sure to register early!

Spread the word
about the conference to anyone who may be interested in attending on November 19th,
advertising in our conference program, or becoming an event sponsor.

Can't make the conference but want to show your support?
This conference benefits programs all over the city of Chicago. As these social networking maps illustrate, the impact of the conference has been extensive in connecting organizations to one another and to ideas to help leaders improve their programs serving at-risk youth. Please consider donating today to help make this event possible.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PEAK Site Visit

Today I had the opportunity to visit an impressive program located at Holy Trinity High School called The Partnership to Educate & Advance Kids (PEAK). PEAK’s mission is to provide opportunities for at-risk youth to achieve academic and personal success through quality, values based education and the guidance of caring adult mentors.

PEAK provides scholarships that enable students to attend the highly regarded
Holy Trinity High School who would not otherwise be able to attend. These scholarships are made possible through “sponsors”—individuals, families, or churches—who commit to paying four years of tuition for a particular student provided that the student fulfills program expectations. Of approximately 400 students at Holy Trinity, 50 are PEAK students.

The PEAK program focuses on serving students who are low-income and/or academically average or below average. While there are a variety of scholarship opportunities for students who excel in their studies, academically average and below average students are often an under-served population when it comes to scholarships. As Tyrina Newkirk, PEAK Program Coordinator, told me when I met with her today, the program believes that struggling students can be successful and graduate given smaller classes, adult mentors, and tutoring.

Beyond just providing financial support enabling students to attend the private high school, PEAK provides each student with a mentor. Each mentor commits to being a role model and significant part of the student’s life for the duration of his or her high school career. Mentors spend at least four hours a month with their students through a variety of activities based around shared interests of the mentors and mentees. Tyrina listed a range of activities the pairs do together—getting manicures, going to museums or libraries, fishing, even visiting a haunted house (several pairs are going this weekend for Halloween!).

Mentors are also in close communication with how their students are doing inside the classroom. Each week, students must fill out evaluation forms that list their progress in each class. Mentors receive a copy of these reports as a way to check in with students and support them academically.

In addition to support through mentors, PEAK students also have after-school tutoring sessions each day (which they can opt out of if their grades are high enough). These sessions provide homework help while also training students to build study-time into their daily routines.

I was impressed with how PEAK recognizes that helping a student through school requires a variety of components: financial support for programs, quality education, adult role models, academic support, parental involvement, and student commitment. I don’t know if all of these components always receive equal attention in the ways that people discuss the drop-out crisis in America. I encourage you to read Dan Bassill's blog article and then chime in your opinion on this forum on the T/MC NING page.

It was great to learn more about PEAK today and about what the program does to help youth both succeed and thrive in high school.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Collaboration Success Story: October 9th Tutor Training Conference

On Saturday, October 9th while thousands of Chicagoans loaded up on carbs in preparation for the Chicago Marathon, volunteers and staff from Cabrini Connections, Chicago Lights Tutoring, and Cabrini Green Tutoring Program had a marathon day filled with great workshops and training sessions at the Fifth Annual Tutor Training Conference.

The conference took place at Fourth Presbyterian Church, home of Chicago Lights. The day was filled with a wide variety of skill-building workshops on topics such as tutoring students in reading, teaching math skills, and helping students in the college admissions process. There were also workshops that discussed the role of mentors during difficult times in a youth’s life and workshops that offered volunteers a view inside today’s schools.

I moderated a panel called “The Changing Faces of Cabrini Green” in which a mother who is a Cabrini Green Community Activist and her son discussed the history and present situation of Cabrini Green along with the realities—positive and negative—of living in that community.

The conference was a huge success and we had more
volunteers from Cabrini Connections attend than ever before (not bad for a Saturday with 80 degree weather!). EL Da’Sheon Nix and Bradley Troast from Cabrini Connections played a large roll in motivating our volunteers to attend and in planning this conference—congratulations to both of them! (read EL’s blog entry for his account of the conference).

More than just a victory for the three programs involved, however, this training conference is a great example of how tutoring and mentoring programs can benefit through collaboration. Although the three programs that teamed up for the conference operate independently of one another, the leaders of each program realized that not only do all the programs serve a similar demographic by working with students from the Cabrini Green area, but the tutors/mentors from each program also need similar sets of skills and training. Rather than holding three separate volunteer training events (read: extra planning time, more money, and additional staff), the joint conference enabled each program to share the workload and the benefits of a tutor training conference. What's more, volunteers could pick up tips and ideas from representatives of all three programs not just their own.

Tutor/Mentor Connection actively encourages tutor/mentor programs throughout the city to collaborate in shared efforts. Rather than looking at similar organizations as mere competitors, they can be viewed as potential collaborative partners. The Program Locator is one way that T/MC helps programs identify other similar organizations existing in their geographical regions that they might reach out to for collaboration.

In addition, Mike Trakan,the T/MC GIS Mapping Specialist, makes a wide variety of maps relevant to tutoring/mentoring programs in Chicago. Many of these maps show how programs along with businesses and faith communities could work together to help youth in specific neighborhoods in Chicago. I encourage you to support Mike's work at the upcoming map gallery event, "Mapping Solutions" on November 17th at Webster's Wine Bar.

Thanks to all of the volunteers who attended the October 9th Conference--I look forward to seeing the payoff of the event during tutoring and mentoring sessions this year!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

November Tutor/Mentor Leadership & Networking Conference

Although I am a Cubs fan and never thought I would enthusiastically blog about something related to the White Sox, I will put my team loyalties aside momentarily. I am thrilled to announce that we have a date and location set for our November 2010 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference.

Friday, November 19th
from 9:00am-5:00pm
U.S. Cellular Field
(home of the Chicago White Sox)

The aim of the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference is to encourage networking, information sharing, and collaboration that helps every tutoring and mentoring program build a stronger “business” of connecting youth and volunteers. Each biannual conference draws 100 to 150 leaders and supporters of volunteer-based tutoring and mentoring programs. Since the first conference in 1994, representatives from over 1,200 distinct organizations have attended as have prominent public figures such as then-Senator Barack Obama and Mayor Richard Daley.

Based on feedback from past conferences and on summer collaboration meetings with program staff and leaders, we have decided to make this conference focus on networking, learning, and collaboration as programs prepare for 2011 and beyond. Although "networking" has always been an important goal of the conferences, we are formatting this conference with a special emphasis on networking between programs.

The focus on networking is also relevant to the Social Network Analysis (SNA) that volunteer Kalyani Misra has been conducting to illustrate programs that have attended past Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences, their geographic distribution, and the ways that participants have contributed as speakers or panelists. These diagrams are a tool for us to illustrate the impact of the conference and to evaluate directions we hope the conference may grow (for instance, getting program leaders to attend conferences from regions of the city that have been previously underrepresented). Kalyani's work (including the diagram shown at the left) can be found on her blog.

What to look forward to at the November 19, 2010 conference:
  • Training session on how to maximize the conference experience to build your network
  • Lunchtime “Topic Tables” will offer time for people to connect for small group discussions focusing on specific topics of importance to leaders, volunteers, and youth in tutoring and/or mentoring programs
  • As always, the conference will offer workshops on a range of topics relevant to building strong, innovative, and high-quality volunteer-based tutoring and mentoring programs. A sampling of workshops to look forward to include: training on creative uses of social networking tools for programs, rethinking special event planning and fundraising for tough economic times, and an interactive demonstration by Mike Trakan, GIS map developer of T/MC, on how to build your own neighborhood maps.
  • Much more to come! We will update the online agenda in the weeks prior to the conference, so keep checking back!
Ways to get involved:
  • Register - Mail in your registration now! Online registration forms will be up soon.
  • Share your input - Whether or not you can attend this conference, please complete the Pre-Conference survey to help us in the planning process
  • Become a sponsor - Event sponsorships are available at a variety of levels—please contact me at 312-492-9614 for any additional information about sponsorship opportunities and benefits