Saturday, May 17, 2008

Poverty, Schools, and Tutor/Mentoring

As I finish my student teaching at a high school in Garfield Park (near the border of Humboldt Park), it has become clear that many of the kids I am working with on the city's West Side need more practice with skills they will need to compete in the job market, or in any higher education pursuits. Some of the kids I work with are incredibly bright, but have not only been left far behind academically, many have no idea how to behave in the professional or academic world. How could they? The schools are overburdened trying to secure federal funding, focusing all their attention on squeezing maximum PSAE/ACT scores from students with reading skills far below "high school" level. No one is teaching kids how to behave in interviews, that's for sure. Myself? My father worked in a big company and had gone to college. My mother was a businesswoman. I suppose they taught me all the little nuances growing up - what to say, how to sit, when to smile and nod my head approvingly, etc. All the tricks of the trade. Maybe some of these kids have this help at home. All I know is I don't see a lot of it in the classroom.

So not only are most of my kids fighting academic deficiencies. Many have been left shorthanded on people skills. For example, one student in one of my classes knows full well that she's out of her element in such situations, telling me, horrified, that "I don't know what to say" when confronted with a table full of college recruiters at a recent college fair. I had to hold her hand and introduce her to the recruiter, explaining that the girl was interested in a career in criminal justice. Another boy in one of my classes openly resents that he didn't get accepted to schools like Lane Tech - schools with more diversity in a different neighborhood. He tells me has only had black friends his whole life. He does well in school - pretty smart kid, but he thinks he'll probably just stay on the West Side after high school.

I'm sure a lot of these kids who are isolated in hypersegregated neighborhoods have similar fears and regrets. Obviously Tutor/Mentor programs can help provide mentorship and confidence. T/MCs can also help kids network, introducing friends and contacts from other parts of the city.

So here's the map I made today, with all this in mind. It shows areas of extreme poverty on the West Side (including the hood where I'm currently student teaching). It shows all the public schools as well as the Tutor/Mentor Centers that are working with kids after school.

While the area around Cabrini Connections (near Halsted and Chicago) seems to have a pretty big cluster of T/MCs, I can't help but notice some empty expanses in the Humboldt Park and Austin areas out west. I also always wonder whether these schools and T/M Centers are working together, sharing data and resources, working to give kids opportunities to work on "real life" skills.

That's all I have for this weekend. Student teaching has been fun, but I look forward to working with Cabrini Connections full time in June to address some of these challenges, make more maps, and drum up some more support for the great service these programs provide for school-age kids throughout the city.

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