Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Headlines, communication and collaboration

Hello all! Chicago area tutoring/mentoring programs have recently been receiving some unintended publicity as a result of a Tribune story about the lack of oversight of $20,000 "tutor grants". In fact, today's Chicago Tribune lead with the headline "Illinois to scrutinize wasted 'tutor' grants" http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/content/education/chi-afterschool-folojul22,0,49961.story. The fact that certain lawmakers chose to support their political backers and not one of the hundreds of well run, legitimate tutor/mentor programs in the area is unfortunate. However, this gives advocates of tutoring/mentoring an opportunity to inform the public as to the necessity of effective programs and how such programs differ from the questionable programs currently being discussed in the press.

In the article, the author mentions a church on Chicago's West Side that was empty and dark during after-school hours, even though it was supposed to house a tutoring center. Another alleged program coordinator was quoted as saying his "Children at Risk" program was "in flux" and "I run it when I can". Even if these programs are legitimate, when doors are closed and the programming is inconsistent, even for a short time, it is difficult to retain both students and volunteers. Why should they be investing their energy and resources in the program if its organizers are not demonstrating the same committment? For this reason (among others) tutor/mentor programs that lead to the most positive outcomes for their participants are those which are best organized to train and empower dedicated volunteers to take on responsibility for administering and organizing various programs. The most effective programs, as the results of a meta-analytic review of 55 controlled studies recently argued, have various methods of regularly engaging volunteers and youth, ensuring their continual involvement and dedication to positive outcomes. These methods include coordinating: "ongoing training for mentors, structured activities for mentors and youth as well as expectations for frequency of contact, mechanisms for support and involvement of parents, and monitoring of overall program implementation" (Dubois, Holloway, Valentine and Cooper 2002). Essentially, these methods ensure that youth and their tutor/mentors are provided with adequate support so that their mentor-mentee relationship can grow.

However, these types of engagement with volunteers to maximize positive outcomes in youth can stretch an underfunded and/or staffed organization. Things like volunteer recruitment, training, screening and program monitoring can all be drains on a tutor/mentor organization. However, at tutor/mentor connection we realize that there are many organizations attempting to do these things effectively in relative isolation, and that through the formation of collaborative relationships amongst our various programs and that if we share strategies as well as some of the legwork, (especially in volunteer recrutiment and training) everyone can benefit. In our view, more collaboration= a higher profile for all tutoring/mentoring programs and thus hopefully more funding to provide more at-risk youth with the benefits of a dedicated relationship with a tutor/mentor vis a vis one of our programs. Find out more at http://www.tutormentorconnection.org/ .

David L. DuBois, D.L., Holloway, B.E., Valentine, J.C.,
and Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth:A Meta-Analytic Review American Journal of Community Psychology, (30)2.

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