After-School Programs Learn to Tutor

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Not long ago, after-school programs were specifically not school; they were places for kids to unwind and play. “There was always a philosophy of balance between recreation, education and nutrition,” says Carla Sanger, CEO of L.A.’s Best, one of California’s largest after-school programs.

The national push for academic achievement has changed that. “I’ve seen expectations increase, to not only overcoming what didn’t happen during the school day but overcoming every social ill out there.”

The pressure for after-school programs to help boost grades is especially strong in poor communities where student test scores are low.

“The tutoring component in after-school programs has grown dramatically in the last seven to eight years,” says Judy Nee, president of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA). “The focus on education reform and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots, as well as the development of funding streams [for academic improvement], has increased the emphasis on tutoring. It’s not just recreation and enrichment.”

Because so many after-school programs rely on grants that require performance-based academic evaluations – such as the 21st Century Community Learning Center program – today’s after-school activities often focus on building on what kids learn in school.

That puts many programs in a bind, because “measurable outcomes are tough to find,” says Ana Campos, executive director of After-School All-Stars in Los Angeles. She says it’s nearly impossible to separate the impacts of school and after-school activities on grades and test scores.

But the programs try anyway, leading Dan Bassill, president of a Chicago-based online network of after-school and tutoring providers, to lament that many after-school programs try to morph into tutoring programs. “A lot of after-school programs have to fudge things they really can’t accomplish, because funding is so tied to test scores,” says Bassill, referring to efforts to link after-school activities and academic achievement.

It’s not just funders who want programs to take care of academics. Lucy Friedman, president of the Afterschool Corp. of New York, told a gathering of congressional staffers last year that when the corporation began coordinating after-school services in 1998, the amount of school work to do “was a big issue. Parents wanted the kids to do their homework.”

The academic pressure has changed hiring practices. Laura Forster, site coordinator for an after-school program run by Sunnyside Community Services in New York City, says after-school programs used to hire staff members who worked well with kids, regardless of the workers’ educational backgrounds. Now, she feels more pressure to hire teachers or people who are studying to be teachers.

Because after-school program salaries are often low and turnover in the education field is high, it’s not easy to find staff to fit the new requirements. “After-school providers are often full of good ideas, but it’s hard to find people to implement those ideas,” says Bassill of Chicago’s Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Bassill rejects the notion of working tutoring into programs just to get funding. “We don’t pretend to be a pure tutoring program,” he says. “We don’t pretend to be teachers.”

And how about the effects on youth? Campos of After-School All-Stars worries about kids getting burned out by the heavy focus on standards of learning. “You know academics are crucial,” she says, “but you can’t make the program an extension of the school day.”

Nee believes an academic approach in after-school programs helps kids if the emphasis is on inquiry-based and hands-on learning. “After-school programs should get kids moving in an experiential way instead of just repeating the school day,” she says.

That’s one of the main challenges for after-school staff. Campos says her youth workers go through training in how to integrate academics and state learning standards into fun activities like science fairs and debate teams. She knows that, rightly or wrongly, the success of the All-Stars and other after-school programs is often measured by test scores.

Following is a look at how several after-school programs provide tutoring.

Immigrant Youth

Sunnyside Community Services
Queens, N.Y.
(718) 784-6173, ext. 120

The Approach: Site Coordinator Laura Forster says the tutoring component of Sunnyside Community Services’ (SCS) after-school programs is dictated by the large immigrant population of the elementary school where it is housed, Public School (PS) 150Q. Because many of the youth do not speak English as their native tongue and have no one at home who speaks English well enough to help them, the programs focus on homework help.

That effort is led by a “homework leader,” usually a college student working in the education field, and an assistant who is usually a college student as well. Older students or recent college graduates lead most of the homework sessions. Some homework instructors are paid through AmeriCorps, with stipends of about $10 an hour, while instructors hired by Sunnyside might get paid up to $20 an hour.

Youths are usually divided into groups of 10 to 15. Forster says the school wants its students to complete their own homework. The homework leaders and assistants help when a child hits a snag.

Forster says the school refers youth to the program largely because of the program’s emphasis on tutoring and socializing ESL (English as a Second Language) students. She says even the non-homework portion of the after-school day often focuses on activities that support academic objectives, such as matching math words to math symbols.

History and Organization: SCS started in the mid-1970s as a service agency for senior citizens, and has grown into the largest community-based social services agency in western Queens, according to its website. SCS began developing after-school services in the 1980s. Aside from the program at PS 150Q, the agency runs an after-school program at another elementary school and several programs not based at schools.

Youth Served: SCS serves about 180 youth, from kindergarten through high school. At PS 150Q, Forster says, about 600 of the 1,000 students are Hispanic. That program also serves youth of Chinese, Korean, Indian and eastern European descent, many of whom are first-generation Americans.

Staff: The staff of about 20 includes both full-timers and specialists who run specific programs, such as dance and art classes. Some of the staffers are college students who are studying to be teachers. A few are AmeriCorps members. The program has one staffer for every 10 to 15 youth.

Forster has one instructor with an educational background in ESL and a volunteer parent to help ESL students. She wants to increase the program’s ESL activities, but says it’s hard to find instructors with ESL backgrounds.

Funding: This year’s budget for the program at PS 150Q is about $300,000, but the amount varies from year to year, Forster says. Most of the funding comes from a grant from the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development. The program also receives grants through the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center program.

Indicators of Success: Teachers at the school fill out evaluations on every child in the after-school program at the end of each school year, indicating whether they have improved academically, socially and emotionally. Forster says last year’s reports on youth in PS 150Q’s program showed that overall, they were more motivated in class because they had completed homework assignments and were more eager to participate in class because they were coming to school better prepared.

Forster says the real success lies in the social development of the children. “It’s really more of a social and emotional impact that we care about,” she says.

Volunteers and Teachers

After-School All-Stars
Los Angeles, Calif.
(213) 978-0745

The Approach: The tutoring component of the After-School All-Stars program began as homework support but has evolved into what Associate Director Carlos Santini calls “ascended day learning.” Even the enrichment activities reinforce what students do in school. Cooking classes, for example, teach measurement and calculations, such as cutting recipes in half.

Executive Director Ana Campos says the program walks a fine line. On the one hand, the schools expect after-school activities to incorporate the California State Content Standards for Learning, which set achievement requirements for each grade level in student knowledge, concepts and skills. But while “you want to be able to provide whatever academic support the students need,” she says, “you don’t want it to be school until 6 every day.”

Because of that, she says, “Our staff go through training to integrate academic learning into fun activities.”

An academic coordinator works with teachers to find out what’s going on in the classes, so the All-Stars can deal with some of the same concepts in different ways, says Diego Arancibia, who is in charge of the All-Stars’ educational programming.

“We make education three-dimensional,” says Santini, the associate director. The All-Stars recently designed a 9/11 memorial for a museum, and held debates on the state’s immigration reform controversy to help kids learn about using facts to inform opinions.

History and Organization: The All-Stars programs began in the 1990s as Inner City Games (ICG) and focused on sports. The founder, veteran Los Angeles youth worker Danny Hernandez, recruited Arnold Schwarzenegger to help raise money and expand ICG to other cities. Eventually, Schwarzenegger became the de facto leader, and the program shifted more toward academics and was renamed. (See “Arnold Learns Youth Work,” October 2003.)

This affiliate of the All-Stars started in 2001.

Youth Served: About 1,000 youths at five Los Angeles schools, from grades 6 through 8. Campos says most youth in the program are recruited by other youth.

Staff: The Los Angeles affiliate has 60 part-time staff members at the five schools and one full-time site coordinator at each school. Campos says none of her paid staff are tutors. Tutoring is done by teachers, who are paid by the school system, and high school volunteers; All-Stars staff help when they’re needed.

Funding: The annual budget is $1.6 million. Much of the funding comes from the state, particularly the After-School Education and Safety Program. A California-based healthy fast-food restaurant chain, El Pollo Loco, also provides funding, as do The Home Depot and individual donors.

Indicators of Success: Campos says her funders don’t require formal evaluations, but the state looks for improvement on school test scores. Santini, like other after-school program coordinators, notes that it’s hard to separate the effects of the core day from after-school programs, but he doesn’t see the All-Stars having a direct impact on test scores.

He says the major benefit of the All-Stars is improving student attitudes. “Changing a student’s attitude toward himself, others and the learning process really is the key that unlocks the low test scores and grades box,” he says.

A Model Curriculum

West Jupiter Community Center
West Jupiter, Fla.
(561) 745-0950

The Approach: The West Jupiter Community Center’s after-school program is based on the Champs program model of Palm Beach County, which is used at 38 after-school sites around the county. It focuses on academic enrichment, based on curricula from Foundations Inc. that blends math and reading content into experiential, hands-on activities. It also focuses on enhancing performance on Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and provides for a certified head teacher to be on site daily.

The overall Champs program is managed by a local nonprofit, Kids In New Directions, which is part of the Children’s Services Council.

The program in West Jupiter provides an hour and a half of tutoring Monday through Thursday, says site Director Edna Runner. In addition to the on-site certified teacher, the Champs model requires several volunteer teachers. The tutoring involves one-on-one help from teachers and volunteer tutors, who are often high school students, as well as group work with students who are in the same class at school.

Runner says her staff communicates with teachers through students’ agendas – notebooks they carry with them in which they, their teachers and the after-school staff write assignments and exchange notes.

Runner says her staff works to motivate students by rewarding them with field trips, or allowing them to earn fake money with which they can purchase donated gifts for family members during the holidays.

History and Organization: The West Jupiter Community Center’s after-school program started in the back of a church in 1986. “There was no place for the kids to go after school, and many did not have parents who could help them with homework,” Runner says.

The idea was to support at-risk kids in particular, many of whom were being raised by grandparents, single parents or parents who didn’t have the educational background to help their children academically.

Runner has been with the program since 1997, and has seen the emphasis on academics after school increase significantly with the establishment of FCAT.

Youth Served: About 90 youth, ages 6 to 18, from six schools. The community center targets low-income students who are on free and reduced-price lunch programs. “Kids are sometimes referred by schools,” Runner says. “They also hear about the program from other kids.”

Staff: The 10 employees include teachers, counselors and, in the summer, college students. The program also uses volunteer teachers and tutors, and high schoolers who help as part of their community service projects.

Champs pays the salaries of the certified teachers, while the West Jupiter Community Group, which runs the community center, pays salaries of other staff, including tutors. Some retired teachers help as volunteers.

“Most of the sites cannot afford to hire a certified teacher to coach and model best teaching practices for their after-school staff,” notes Champs Program Manager Heather Alfonso.

Funding: The annual budget is about $400,000. Runner says all funding comes from local sources, including the Children’s Service Council, the Palm Beach County Housing and Community Development Authority, and the Jupiter Children’s Foundation.

Indicators of Success: No funding sources require program evaluations, Runner says. She says teachers track and report the impacts of the program on students. She says Jupiter Middle School teachers note that youth in the program come to class better prepared than other students.

Networking and Resources

Cabrini Connection and Tutor/Mentor Connection
Chicago, Ill.
(312) 492-9614

The Approach: Cabrini Connection is not a typical after-school program; it doesn’t even always happen right after school. Youth from middle school to high school go to the organization’s headquarters in the Cabrini Green area of Chicago on Wednesday or Thursday evenings to meet with their adult mentors – volunteers whose main task is to help youths graduate from high school, get jobs and set off on stable careers.

Cabrini Connection President Dan Bassill says the program offers mentoring first and tutoring second. “If we don’t affect student aspiration, it’s not like the kids will be motivated at school,” he says.

“We don’t pretend to be teachers. We help kids as help is needed.”

That being said, the Cabrini Connection is part of a larger program known as the Tutor/Mentor Connection: a massive database, clearinghouse and informational website devoted to linking would-be tutors and after-school providers with programs; helping parents, students and teachers find programs; and offering access to training and resources for professionals in after-school tutoring and mentoring.

History and Organization: Cabrini Connection started in 1965 as a volunteer program for employees of the Montgomery Ward department store headquarters in northern Chicago. Those employees offered after-school tutoring and mentoring to children at nearby schools. Bassill was a Montgomery Ward employee and eventually became head of the volunteer program.

In 1992, Cabrini Connection and Tutor/Mentor Connection were established as nonprofits. Cabrini continues to offer one-on-one tutoring and mentoring after school and in the evenings, while the connection networks with after-school service providers throughout the Chicago area. It links youth workers with one another as well as linking parents, youths and teachers with after-school programs.

Youth Served: Cabrini Connection provides tutoring/mentoring support to about 75 kids, from seventh through 12th grades, in poor neighborhoods of northern Chicago. Many kids ask to join, while others are referred by school staff.

Bassill says it’s difficult to calculate how many youth benefit from the Tutor/Mentor Connection, but notes that 250 organizations are listed in the connection’s database.

Staff: Cabrini Connection and the Tutor/Mentor Connection are served by the same staff: three full-time employees and two part-timers. The adult mentors/tutors are all volunteers. Bassill notes how important it is to maintain staff from year to year to cement relationships with volunteers and kids.

Funding: The annual budget is $170,000. Bassill says funding is uncertain from year to year. A current city grant covers 25 percent of the budget, while the rest comes from corporate and individual donors, including Kraft Foods and a bank, HSBC.

Indicators of Success: Bassill has avoided the test-score emphasis on tutoring, but says that has eliminated some funding opportunities. As for measuring success, he says that 85 percent of the youth served by Cabrini Connection in any given year return the next year. “Kids and volunteers both vote with their feet,” he says.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been growing. The organization’s first conference drew 70 participants; today, its conferences draw more than 500. The connection’s website database of after-school programs continues to grow, with more than 500 after-school tutoring and mentoring programs listed. The connection reports that the website receives 4,000 unique visitors per month.