Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Student Spotlight: Melissa Young

Josephinum High School Freshman Melissa Young has been with her mentor, Elena for 2 years now and things just keep getting better and better. In fact, the two of them spend quite a bit of time together outside of tutoring, often hanging out at Elena’s house or going out with friends and fellow Cabrini Connections students Jon’nita Blake and Ashanti Roby. One of their favorite things to do is just chill and watch scary movies such as the recent horror flick, Jeepers Creepers 2. Other times they’ll go out to eat or to the movies, or occasionally even go skating, which they both really enjoy.

Like many students, it took Melissa a bit of searching to find the right high school for her. However, in the end she decided on Josephinum Academy and is quite happy she did. Even though they’re fairly strict (i.e. they require uniforms, have harsh attendance and detention policies…etc.) she’s glad to be at a small, Catholic, all girls academy. Her favorite subjects there are Literature and Spanish and her most challenging course is Religion. Although she comes from a Christian upbringing, she finds religion class difficult because it requires stepping back from her own belief system and opening herself up to the huge range of religions that exist in the world. However, she has brought her grade up from an F to a C and is working with her mentor to improve her grade even more.

When not at Cabrini Connections or Josephinum, you can usually find Melissa playing basketball with the boys, which she’s done since 7th grade. She also enjoys swimming, although she doesn’t get the opportunity to do it as often now that the New City YMCA on Halsted closed down. She also enjoys writing poetry and drawing to express her feelings and emotions. She started doing this after seeing the way her friend Destiny would draw when she got angry in order to get her feelings out and calm down. Melissa has found both drawing and poetry to be great ways of dealing with her frustrations and actually plans on putting her poetry into music, since she’s an avid singer. Next year she plans on joining the choir at school and working on her voice to accomplish this goal. Since she is also a member of the Cabrini Connections tech club, perhaps she’ll find a way to use technology to combine her multiple interests into one multimedia project involving her voice, her poetry and her drawings. Either way, don’t stop dreaming Melissa, you’re destined for great things!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Fran Fritzmann

This week’s volunteer spotlight is on one of our mentors who has been really working hard to develop a great relationship with her student, native Chicagoan, Fran Fritzmann. Although this is their first year working together at Cabrini Connections, they actually have been together for two years, since they originally got matched up last year at Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, a Kindergarden-6th grade version of Cabrini Connections. She got involved there almost immediately upon moving into the neighborhood, seeking a way to connect with her new community and lend a hand to youth like Arden who could benefit from a caring mentor. Although this was her first time getting involved with youth tutoring/mentoring, Fran was able to quickly gain both Arden and her mother’s trust through frequent communication, dinner dates and working with her on a wide variety of subjects and projects. For example, Fran recently helped Arden prepare for her state-mandated Constitution test and the ISATs, which are a crucial component to high school admissions in Chicago Public Schools. Fran also often finds herself helping Arden with her social studies and math homework. Fran’s mentoring and homework help have helped Arden earn all As and Bs on her latest report card. Though Fran confesses that “Actually, I suck at math, I can’t do anything in my head,” this hasn’t prevented her from becoming a Certified Public Accountant and serving as the Vice President of Finance at Tighe Publishing Services (TPS), which is a full-service educational development house that partners with educational publishers to produce textbooks.

At TPS, she describes herself as a jack of all trades, due in part to her diverse background, having received a degree in Human Resource Management at Northeastern Illinois University. As you might guess, her textbook development job offers her a unique insight on the course materials that Arden’s school, Lasalle Language Academy, assigns her. Her main complaint, which is shared by many others in the textbook development community, is that textbooks are being developed almost exclusively to meet government mandated testing standards (i.e. the No Child Left Behind Act) with less and less emphasis being put on developing readable and engaging prose. This is unfortunate because it allows for less flexibility and creativity on the part of textbook developers like Fran in their important job of educating our nation’s youth.

We want to thank Fran for her involvement with Arden and our program. Keep up the great work!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hope, Build, Believe & Achieve

Change is in the air at Cabrini Connections. Starting in a few months at our Year-End Dinner, Cabrini Connections is going to undergo a slight ideological facelift. Every year the students and volunteers vote on a theme for the Year-End Dinner that captures the spirit of what we do and our goals for the future. This theme helps Courtland Madock and the rest of the year-end dinner planning committee decide on what types of programming/food/decorations they want to include at the year end dinner. Last year's theme was Coming Together, Growing Together. This year we staff, along with the student leadership council decided we wanted to up the ante a bit. So, rather than voting for a theme merely for the Year-End Dinner, we decided to use the Year-End Dinner as a kickoff for an entire year of themed programming based around a theme that was voted on by students and volunteers, eager to get more involved in determining the direction of their program.

So after receiving more than 80 suggestions by current students and volunteers, the Youth Leadership Council whittled them down to the three best which were:

--Learning & Leading
--Connecting & Advancing
--Hope, Build, Believe & Achieve

This past week, students and volunteers spoke as one, overwhelmingly selecting Hope, Build, Believe & Achieve to be our motto for both the 2009 Year End Dinner and the coming year. This means that Olivia Williams, the Schiller school 7th grader and first year mentee who suggested this theme, will be receiving a special prize. So, stay tuned for more details about how Cabrini Green youth will be Hoping, Building, Believing and Achieving in the coming year!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

College Program: What is it like to attend a large, public university?

The first post in my series on student experiences at different types of institutions of higher education describes the experiences of one college graduate at a large, public university.

Since graduation, this graduate featured has worked in a variety of different occupations and organizations. He currently works as a professional journalist and in non-profit communications management. This graduate experienced family challenges during his undergraduate experience, but overcame them to attain his degree in English and later, a graduate degree in journalism. I admire this graduate's ability to overcome personal challenges and I attribute it to his positive attitude and dedication to what truly matters to him. The interview follows.

What opportunities did you find at your type institution of higher learning?

The greatest opportunity, in my opinion, is the large breadth of programs available and the investment within those programs. During my tenure at my school, it embarked upon a large construction campaign that not only provided new buildings for most of the various colleges, but for some of those colleges, additional teachers and educational resources were hired or acquired to increase the value of the overall education to the student.

Within my area of study, I was able to take time to explore other programs to satisfy my own curiosity and to enrich my overall education. Certain programs received larger support, namely the business, engineering, law and medicine colleges that my school was especially renowned for, and especially proud of. The liberal arts programs did receive a far amount of attention, but being that all a philosophy or English program mostly needs is good teachers and a draft-free room, the requirements there were smaller and mostly addressed.

What challenges did you find at your type university?

Because the university was in a constant state of flux due to a several-billion dollar construction campaign, I remember feeling ungrounded to the school. Classes would move from one building to another mid-term because of the construction. Several times, a class would congregate on the first day of term only to find that we were in the wrong building -- effective administration-student communication was not a strong suit of the school at that time. Because the university was primarily a commuter school, the campus was less a center of student life outside of class than some other schools. In my last year or two of school, this was rectified to a certain extent by a greater depth of campus outreach and programming, but for my first couple of years, I remember feeling as if school was just a place that I went to a couple of hours a day -- my real life existed elsewhere.

Because of the formidable size of my school, I was one of many. Many of my intro-level classes were in gargantuan lecture halls. However, many of these classes held "lab" sessions weekly in which graduate teaching assistants would engage with us one-on-one, or at least in small groups. Some of my favorite classes ever were in these formats.

I also experienced a fair number of challenges as a student. Because of events within my life (my parents announced their intent to divorce on my first day of college), I started losing touch with my studies during my freshman and sophomore year. My attendance dropped, my grades suffered, and a few black marks made their way onto my transcript. Some other schools would have administration check-in on a student like me who would be classified as a problem, or at-risk, but I received nothing. Certainly, I never actively pursued such help, but one of the reasons why students run into problems is that they often lack an awareness of their at-risk academic behavior until it's too late. Luckily, I came around and eventually became a Dean's List student, but for a short, bleak period, I was a hair's width away from dropping out, at least temporarily.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in attending this type of institution? What kinds of students would fit in the best in that type of environment?

Pay attention, and expect few safety nets if your academic progress ever falters. There's room in a school this size for a student who relishes big classes, or small, intimate learning. Some effort on the part of the student to engage with the school beyond the purely academic aspect is required, but if taken, is rewarding. Perhaps the most helpful tip is to find your niche. Clubs, intramural teams, societies all exist for all manner of interest and by taking an active part in one of these groups, your school social network extends beyond that of the computer. Becoming friends within the people of your particular academic program is important, but so is interacting with people throughout the entire school itself.

If quiet, assert yourself and explore your interests. In schools as large as the one I went to, opportunities abound to enrich your own academic interests in addition to your personal interests.

Student Spotlight: Yolanda Hyles

This week Yolanda Hyles will be gracing the page of our Student Spotlight in honor of her recent academic accomplishments and all the hard work she continues to put into her studies. At present, Yolanda, a sophomore at Manley Career Academy, is 8th out of 327 students in her class! This means that Yolanda is one of the top 10 most accomplished sophomores at Manley! Congrats!

To achieve such excellent grades, Yolanda has been hard at work with her mentor, Molly Shah, working on everything from U.S. History to her graphic design class. Her biggest struggle is Chemistry, where Molly is trying to push her to earn the As that they both know she can get. Through working together over the past 2 years both inside our center and out Molly and Yolanda have developed a strong and supportive relationship. In Yolanda’s own words: “Molly’s stayed with me, made me stay focused on homework…she’s the reason why I’m in the top 10 instead of just playin’ around”.

Yolanda and Molly have met inside and outside of our center, building a well balanced relationship that is a mix of work and play. For instance, they have gone bowling together, eaten dinner at restaurants like Ed Debevic’s and Galleria Marchetti. For Yolanda, what originally drew her to Cabrini Connections is the fact that it’s fun! She likes the fact that we “go a lot of places.” Her favorite outing is our yearly summer trip to Six Flags for students with over 80% attendance the prior year. She’s also enjoyed attending some of our college trips, where we arrange private tours of colleges and universities to give the students the opportunity to learn first-hand about the campus, the classes and the student life of schools like DePaul, Chicago State, Westwood and Illinois Institute of Technology.

Although she’s only a sophomore, Yolanda is already thinking about her future. In the coming years, she hopes to attend Clark-Atlanta University, where she will study business. After that she’s thinking she will go on to cosmetology school and open her own hair and nail salon. Luckily, Yolanda has been working hard to keep her grades up and, if she stays on track, should be on track to follow her dreams!

The great thing is that now she’s not alone. In fact, in a recent interview for a mentor appreciation video, Yolanda, slightly nervous, but still confident explained: “Molly is my tutor. She’s my best friend. She’s like the best friend I ever had. She knows what to say when I’m up and when I’m down.” With friends like Molly, Yolanda can’t be stopped. Congratulations and keep up the great work!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

College Program: Interview with a First Generation Latina College Graduate

The first interview in my series on minority experiences in college prep and as college students kicks off with an interview with a first generation Latina college graduate.

This college graduate grew up with her mother, an immigrant from a Latin American country, and her siblings. She was the first in her family to attend an institution of higher learning an accomplished much during her tenure as a college student. This young woman achieved excellent grades as a high school and college student, attained fluency of a foreign language during a one year study abroad program, and will attend law school in the fall. Notably, this young woman achieved all this even though she had to financially support herself and her mother almost entirely while in college. The interview follows below.

Question: What were your assets preparing for and going into college as a first generation Latina student?

Response: I was fortunate enough to have a lot of encouragement from my mom and my teachers. I never really questioned if college was perhaps for me or not - it was always something I knew I'd do even though my parents and older brothers and sisters didn't go to college. I think my positive attitude and my mothers encouragement helped me. I was also very involved in high school and I believe that helped my university see potential in addition to just minority status.

Question: What challenges did you face as a first generation Latina, either in your college prep process or as a college student?

Response: I think the biggest challenge I faced as a first generation Latina to attend college was my mother's unfamiliarity with the system. She couldn't help me and although you can get help at school, it's still hard to never have anyone to give you advice or warn you about how college might be. Subsequently, one has to work a lot harder to gather that type of information. I think it added stress for me. I think I would have liked my mother to talk to me about college. That never happened.

On that same note, I have a unique situation because I had to live at home, so that I could use my financial aid to pay for our mortgage since my mother was unemployed. Perhaps similar things can happen to first generation minorities who go to college and are not completely detached from worries back home. That's definitely detrimental to performance and even sociability. That was another big challenge for me.

Question: What advice would you give to other Latino students preparing to go to college?

Response: I would suggest that the summer before senior year of high school, or even the one after, prospective students should look for mentors, read about college life, etc., so that they can make the most of it. I would also suggest that they encourage their parents to be involved in the process. Sometimes parents seem to feel detached and think they cannot contribute. However, a mere presence or display of interest and encouragement can make a great difference.

And learn a foreign language! I'd suggest that. College is still a great time to start.


Thank you to our interviewee. If I ever need a trilingual lawyer, you will be the first person I call!

College Program: Interview Series

If you have been reading my blog, you might have noticed I am a big proponent of working with others to learn from their expertise and experiences. Over the few weeks I will post brief interviews with college graduates of diverse backgrounds. The interviews will focus on two topics: experiences at different types of institutions of higher learning and the experiences of minorities in their college preparation and as college students.

Here are some disclaimers about the forthcoming interview posts:
  • All interviews will be anonymous and will not name the interviewee's alma mater. I have chosen to do it this way because I want the interviewees to give candid responses and because I am not in the business of promoting any one institution over another.
  • As with any "advice" that I or anyone else will offer you about college prep, make sure you consider the message and perspective of the individual, but always carefully evaluate what works best for you and your student.
  • Please note that I always start each interview by asking about the assets the individual or type of institution has to offer.
If you would like to participate and talk about your college experience as a member of a specific social or religious group, as an alum of a specific program or type of institution, or you would like to just share general advice, please contact me (carla [at] u [dot] northwestern [dot] edu).

Volunteer Spotlight: Brea Adams

23 year old and recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Brea Adams is passionate about youth. She just spent four years studying human development and family studies and is currently a graduate student at DePaul University where she is training to be a school counselor. Although she is unsure whether she wants to eventually work professionally with middle school or high school youth, she’s very happy to be working with her current mentee, 8th grader Dallae Rodriguez. They have only been matched up for a few months, yet they have already cultivated a strong mentoring relationship. They work on a variety of academic topics, primarily math, which has actually been a learning experience for Brea as well, since it forces her to brush up on some math concepts that may be a bit rusty. However, Brea’s research has definitely paid off since according to Dallae, “working with Brea has drastically brought up my grade for math”. She now regularly arrives at tutoring beaming from her scores of 90% and 100% on math tests where she was previously earning significantly lower marks. When speaking about their relationship, Brea sums it up with: “We connect well!” In fact, they have more in common than might meet the eye, for instance, they both wear the same style of shoes, are constantly smiling and even share a favorite book: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which addresses adolescent issues such as teenage sexuality, drug use and abuse in a real and honest way.

Tutoring youth is nothing new for Brea. In fact she has been working with younger students since high school and currently helps to run a program at DePaul that hires undergraduate tutors for the university. Because she enjoys working one-on-one with kids so much and missed this interaction after graduating from college and leaving Madison, she sought out our program immediately upon arriving in Chicago. However, originally she was not matched with Dallae, but rather with another student who unfortunately had infrequent attendance throughout the fall quarter. However during this time, Brea demonstrated her commitment when she remained with the program despite not always having her mentee to work with, instead kindly offering to work with other students when their mentors couldn’t come and keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity. When asked what she thinks of Cabrini Connections Brea offers: “I think this is a great program; I’m happy to be a part of it!” Thanks Brea for your dedication and all your hard work. You are a true asset to Dallae and our program!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Serve America Act

Back in September I wrote a post about public service and the election. In it I mentioned a bill that Edward Kennedy had introduced in the Senate called the "Serve America Act", which aims to expand and improve opportunities for public service. Since this bill has the potential to benefit tutor/mentor programs and other organizations making a difference, I think it's important to examine the meat and potatoes of the bill. According to opencongress.org, if made law, the bill will:

+Create a "Youth Engagement Zones to Strengthen Communities program which will provide grants for partnerships between local educational agencies that serve high-need, low-income communities and community-based or state entities to engage students and out-of-school youth in service-learning addressing specific challenges faced by their communities

+Create a Campus of Service program, which will annually grant up to 30 Universities with exemplary service-learning programs the funds to assist their students' pursuit of public service careers

+Direct the Corporation for National and Community Service to contract for a 10-year, longitudinal service-learning impact study.

+Establish the Commission on Cross-Sector Solutions to America's Problems to study ways in which the federal government and businesses can more effectively collaborate with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations to address pressing national and local challenges.
+Create a Community Solutions Funds Pilot program awarding competitive matching grants to grantmaking institutions or partnerships between such institutions and state or local governmental entities which will use the grants to provide competitive matching subgrants to community organizations for use in replicating or expanding proven solutions to specifically identified community challenges.

+Establish an "Innovation Fellowships Pilot Program" that will award competitive grants to individuals who have completed at least one period of national service, to establish innovative nonprofit organizations that address national and local challenges.

+Create a ServeAmerica Corps program that will award competitive grants to states and nonprofit organizations to fund national service in low-income communities by founding an:

--Education Corps that improve certain education indicators, including student engagement, achievement, and graduation

--Healthy Futures Corps that improve certain health indicators, including health care access; -- Opportunity Corps that improve certain opportunity indicators, including financial literacy and access to housing, and employment-related services

-- Encore programs designed to take advantage of the skills of participants age 50 and older. Creates additional incentives for national service participation by individuals age 50 and older.

+Establish the ServeAmerica and Encore Fellowships program providing ServeAmerica Fellowships to university-nominated individuals and Encore Fellowships to individuals age 50 or older who agree to be placed with nonprofit organizations to carry out projects in specified areas of national need.

+Creates a Volunteer Generation Fund program awarding competitive matching grants to states and nonprofit organizations to increase the availability and capacity of volunteers to address state priorities with regard to areas of national need or work with nonprofit civic entities, including faith-based organizations, to address such needs.

+Ensures the commencement of a nationwide Call to Service Campaign.

+Requires the Office of Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement a VfPServe program providing skilled professionals with fixed-amount stipends to offset their costs of volunteering abroad to address specified VfP objectives aimed at ameliorating living conditions in developing countries.

This is some really good stuff! As you can see, Cabrini Connections, The Tutor/Mentor Connection potentially has a lot to gain from the passage of this bill, from increased availabilty of funding and volunteers for Cabrini Connections, to increased government support for some of the ideas that I've been discussing on this blog and on tutormentorexchange.net. Unfortunately, despite getting press in such high profile publications as the New York Times, the bill is currently stuck in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions with only 17 co-sponsors. The co-sponsors are as follows:

Therefore, if your senator isn't on there, give their office a ring and ask them why the heck they haven't come out in full support! You can find their contact info here.

Considering that the federal govt has already SPENT NEARLY 5 TRILLION DOLLARS BAILING OUT BANKS AND LARGE CORPORATIONS, don't you think it's time to put a little of our taxpayer money to good use?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

College Program: Our Mission

I am proud to announce that the College Program now has a mission statement. The mission statement will guide us in planning future programming and a serve as the starting point for program evaluation.

The mission statement reads, “to transform youth from economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods into college bound students through providing structured support, resources, and training.”

Although mission statements are only a sentence long, they pack a punch. Mission statements attempt to encapsulate an organization’s broad goals and briefly state how an organization will get there. They are not an operating or strategic plan, which lay out in detail an organization’s specific goals, performance metrics, procedures, and strategies. In that sense, mission statements tell you everything that an organization does while telling you almost nothing about how the organization operates.

Allow me to explain some of the details behind our mission, so that if you are a tutor/mentor with our program or another program, you can see what the mission statement means on the ground. The first that I did in developing this statement was refer to Cabrini Connection’s mission statement, which is to, “Engage workplace adults in structured activities that make a life-changing difference for youth living in economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods.” I borrowed language from the larger organization’s mission because the College Program is one of the “structured activities” offered by Cabrini Connections. I also incorporated the adjective “structured” into our mission so that we create programming in line with the broader organization’s procedures and values. A part of our structure includes weekly meetings, appointment scheduling, regular team meetings, and planned intake sessions and assignment sheets. Additionally, I borrowed the phrase “youth… from economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods” from their mission statement to ensure that we ultimately serve the same population. The College Program serves all students at Cabrini Connections, so I equated our population with that of the organization.

Finally, I want to note my use of the word “transform” and the phrase “college bound students.” Transforming another human being is a challenge. It is a stronger than saying something like “to assist youth from economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods in becoming college bound students.” As tutors/mentors we are literally assisting students, but more importantly we are a layer of support in the process of transforming a child who might have frame of reference about higher education into a student who is curious and excited about going to college. College bound students are the end goal for of providing "support, resources, and training." We do not define “college bound” students solely as students who have received college acceptance letters or students who have enrolled at a community college. College bound students are students of any grade who ask questions, go on college trips, study for the ACT, research colleges, and get excited about March Madness.

In our pilot year as a separate curriculum, we hope to develop a strategic plan that will turn our goals into measurable outcomes, create strategies and procedures to attain those outcomes, and lay out a criteria for evaluating our work. We will report back on these plans as developments arise and incorporate the mission statement into our planning.

For now, our new mission statement will allow the College Program to move purposefully throughout the remainder of the school year.

Monday, March 16, 2009

College Program: Working with First Generation College Students

Working with potential first generation college students poses a unique set of challenges for tutors and mentors in prepping their students to go college. The tutor/mentor might be the only adult in the student’s life that has attended college or some form of higher education. If the student has not received messages about college or higher education at school or through other enrichment programs, the student might have a limited idea about college, its purpose and the overall preparation process. If you face this challenge, you may wonder how to prepare a college student starting at square one.

Here are some strategies I have either implemented or seen others implement in working with potential first generation college students in the college prep process.
  • If you work with your student at a tutoring/mentoring program, do not underestimate the resources available to you through the organization. Connect with other mentors and the program staff and ask them about how they worked on college prep with their students. If you meet other tutors at square one, brainstorm, research and keep networking.
  • Start by talking about your own experience in higher education. Talk about your own education experience staring from what you did in high school to prepare for college and what your experience in higher education was like. Prepare a set of questions in case your student does not have any questions about your experience. Sample questions include: Did you live at home, in a dorm? What was your major? What were you involved in on campus? Was your college small, medium or large? How was attending college important to what you do now?
  • Use a pop culture reference. When asked, some students will open up about things they have seen in movies or television. I learned this strategy in college when I did some rape and sexual assault education at some high schools in Chicago. Although bringing up the topic of rape and sexual assault often made students feel shy or think that the topic did not pertain to their lives, I found that students better connected with the topic when I would ask, “has anyone seen Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?” Connecting the topic to media the students consume every day made them think about how the topic fit into the real world. Fortunately, college prep is a less dramatic topic and less likely to induce a sudden case of shyness. If you use this method, you can start with, “what have you seen or heard about college on TV or in movies?” Make sure you only address “appropriate” pop culture references about college. You want to stress the academic and personal development aspect of college.
  • Ask about the student’s interests and favorite school subjects. This topic provides an excellent segue into talking about majors and potential careers.
  • Go for a college visit. Visit institutions of higher education in the area and if you can, sit in on a class. College visits help students envision themselves as a college student. Some institutions have offices that work with at-risk youth. If you can find a university with such an office, take your student for a visit and make sure you make your student aware that these resources exist on college campuses.
  • Engage the parents. Parents are your best allies for preparing your student for college. Talk to them about your college prep goals and feel out the parent’s educational goals for their child. Do not assume anything about the parent’s educational or personal background. Some parents might not have an education past elementary school and some parents might have a college degree or some other training. Some parents might be refugees or immigrants with educational backgrounds ranging from no formal training to post-graduate work. Other parents may have served time in prison. Some parents might not speak English well enough to have a conversation with you. Furthermore, depending on cultural and individual preferences, some parents might have a hard time accepting their child might go to college and live away from home and some parents might want their child to become a world traveler. Be sensitive to these concerns and go in with an open mind.
  • Start each session with a practice ACT or SAT exam question. Many of these sample questions are available for free online. A weekly practice question can introduce your student to the types of questions they will encounter on the exam.
  • Encourage your student to attend a summer enrichment program. If you live in Chicago, you should check out a Chicago Public Schools program called Summer Quest, which sends CPS high school students to summer educational and leadership programs, including sessions at colleges. In addition to the educational benefits, these types of programs help students and families mentally prepare for the idea of having the student attend college.

I will post more suggestions as I think of them. If you have suggestions please contact me (Carla [at] u [dot] northwestern [dot] edu).

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike Hayes

Mike Hayes, one of our veteran mentors, has been working with youth at Cabrini Connections since 2002. He originally got involved through his friend Mike Jozwik, another one of our veteran tutors, with whom he was doing improv comedy at the time. Their troupe was known as Flambango and has performed all around Chicago including at Second City and The Apollo Theatre. Though Hayes eventually transitioned into a less active role, his partner in crime Mike Jozwik remains active in the troupe. Though they no longer perform comedy together in front of an audience, they recently took center stage at a slightly more serious event a couple weeks ago. The two Mikes, in an attempt to foster more camaraderie and collaboration among the mentors at Cabrini Connections, put together a mentor “Bull Session” that took place after tutoring on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. There they facilitated a ‘mentors-only’ round table discussion where they encouraged their fellow mentors to share effective strategies and resources that they have discovered or developed through their years of combined mentoring experience.

In his 5+ years with our organization, Mike has worked with 2 students, recent high school graduate Kevin Cordero and up and coming 8th grader, Christian Palacios who is occupying the student spotlight position this week. In fact, Mike’s mentoring must have played a role in Christian’s nearly perfect 985/1000 CPS selective enrollment score. Discussing the wide variety of subjects that he and Mike work on together, Christian explained “He’s good at everything!” During his tenure at Cabrini Connections, he has not only built strong relationships with his 2 mentees, but he also met and married his current wife, former Cabrini Connections tutor, Susan Avery!

In addition to mentoring Christian, Mike is also a member of the Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection Executive Board where he serves as secretary, constantly trying to build resources for our organization and kids all over the city. With his law degree from Marquette University and work experience in fields ranging from litigation consulting to his current business development job with AIG commercial insurance, he has developed the skills and networks to be a tremendous force for Cabrini Connections.

In fact, thanks to Mike, over a dozen of our most active students had the opportunity to savor a free 8 course meal last week at one of the finest restaurants in the country, Charlie Trotter’s. Mike reached out to a friend and got us on the list to participate in the Charlie Trotter’s Excellence Program, which gave students a chance to learn more about the culinary arts, etiquette and of course enjoy a gourmet meal! About the experience Mike says “It was great! It was fun to see each student’s reaction to the courses,” which included such delicacies as steamed eel wrapped in banana leaves, poached quince and Pickering Pass Oysters. Needless to say, the students, volunteers and staff of Cabrini Connections are lucky to have such an experienced and dedicated mentor/board member in Mike Hayes! Keep up the great work.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Student Spotlight: Christian Palacios

This week we're proud to put one of our brightest, most promising students, Christian Palacios, in the Student Spotlight. Christian recently received some fantastic news. After scoring a nearly perfect 985/1000 on his High School Admissions rubric, he was extended offers of admission to Lincoln Park High School, Lane Tech and Whitney Young Magnet School, three of the best high schools in Chicago. After much debate, he decided to attend Whitney Young, where he will continue to prepare for a career in medicine, ideally as an anesthesiologist. Despite being in 8th grade, Christian has big dreams for the future. He's already planning on attending the University of Chicago to continue his preparations for medical school.

Christian and his mentor Mike Hayes realize that it's never too soon to be thinking about his future. For this reason, Christian has been attending the UIC Health Science Enrichment Program, which serves as a pipeline for students interested in health care careers, imparting the necessary skills for a career in medicine while introducing students at a young age to various careers and health care professionals. For example, through this program, Christian has met numerous doctors and even attended a cadaver laboratory, which he described as a fun and very interesting experience. Christian is dedicated to this program since, like Cabrini Connections, it offers graduating seniors college scholarships that they earn throughout the years based on their involvement.

Despite his passion for medicine, Christian describes himself as a fan of the arts. In fact, his favorite class at the school he attends, Skinner elementary, is his art class. Though he hasn't had much academic training, he is a very talented self-taught artist who plans to continue studying art in a classroom setting throughout high school. Right now he's enjoying learning about the role of art in different African cultures and has developed a particular affinity for the works of Norman Rockwell. He also has been involved with his school's drama club and plans to stay involved with theater in high school as well. In addition to arts and science, Christian has a passion for the Spanish language and continues to study it at school in his quest for fluency.

Throughout the past year, Christian and his mentor Mike have developed a strong tutoring/mentoring relationship, working together on a wide variety of subjects including lots of math, social studies, science...etc. They also talk a lot about current events, politics and other newsworthy topics. Though Mike has at times accused Christian of being a contrarian, it always provides them with plenty to discuss. We're just glad to have such an ambitious and dedicated student in our ranks. Keep up the great work Christian!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

College Program: ACT Study Group

I am proud to announce the kick off of the College Program’s ACT study group next Thursday at 5 pm at Cabrini Connections. We are fortunate to have a volunteer willing to lead the ACT study group and serve as our on-site math/science/reading/writing guru for juniors interested in getting additional tutoring and practice for the ACT. If you are a tutor at Cabrini Connections and your student is interested in prepping for the ACT (regardless of their grade), please encourage them to come to the Thursday ACT study group sessions. The group is tentatively scheduled to meet for six weeks (from March 19th to April 23rd).

Midwestern colleges and universities prefer evaluating students’ ACT scores as a part of their admissions process in the (West coast and East coast schools prefer the SAT), but we hope that students will gain skills from working with the group that will help them in all standardized testing they will encounter in the next few years. We also hope that the group will learn how to study in teams and encourage each other to keep studying for the big test.

Thanks to the generous support of Cabrini Connections, the College Zone has two ACT test prep books full of sample exams and study tips at our students’ disposal. Additionally, do not forget to search for the various practice exams and study skills available for free online. I recommend the ACT’s official website for students seeking knowledge about the test and practice materials (www.act.org).

Whether or not you are a tutor/mentor at Cabrini Connections, remember to reinforce the importance of ACT or SAT test prep to your student’s college prep process. If you feel you cannot provide your student adequate support in preparing for the test, form a group with other students and tutors to support and motivate your student and bridge the resource gap. If you volunteer through a community organization, reach out to other volunteers (preferably a math whiz and someone lexically inclined) to pool together your talent and get your students ready to do their best on test day.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

College Program: Creating Life Long Learners

In tonight’s college mentoring sessions, one of our tutor’s comments stood out to me and reinforced my vision of the college program: creating life-long learners. While doing a intake session with one of our student/tutor pairs tonight, I asked the tutor to recount the story of her journey in higher education. This tutor told us all about the exams she had to take to attain her dream of becoming an attorney. This tutor told us that every time she took an important academic test, she thought that she was done with tests for the rest of her life. After getting through the SAT, LSAT and Bar exam, this tutor realized that she would never be done with taking tests. In fact, she has to continue earning continuing legal education credits (CLE’s) to maintain her licensing. After listening to her story, I reflected on how her realization that she would never stop taking tests holds true for all of the academic challenges we encounter in our lives. Whether we face tests at school, at work or in our personal lies, we never stop learning.

As college tutors we help students look at the long-term picture of what they want their lives to look like and in imagining this long-term picture we should stress the importance of seeking out knowledge and applying it to their daily life. At Cabrini Connections, we work with at-risk youth, and these students often lack resources critical to attaining a higher education and jobs. However, the College Program strives to create resourceful students. We want our students to know that if there is a question related to their academic or professional development that they cannot answer or a resource they lack, they can find someone out there that knows the answer and someone who can help the student obtain necessary resources. We encourage students to ask questions, find information, consider their options, try out a plan and evaluate how it works for them. This strategy does not just work for high school students applying to college. It is invaluable for students and professionals over the course of their lifetime.

Ultimately, the College Program teaches our students a process. We cannot provide a road map to success that will apply to every student. However, we can show them that planning for the future is a process of asking questions, researching the possibilities, trying out different paths and evaluating the outcomes. Empowering your student to become life-long learner can help them navigate the difficult process of picking a college and finding out “what they want to be when they grow up.”

Encourage your students to always keep learning. When you keep learning, you keep growing.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Nice

Veteran volunteer Susan Nice, a realtor at D’Aprile Realty, Inc. has been working with Kenwood Academy senior, Eboni Rivera for the past 3 years. After finding our program online, she came in for an interview and was immediately matched up with Eboni, who was lacking a committed mentor at the time. Luckily, they got along great right off the bat and have continued to grow in their relationship throughout the past 3 years. For Susan, Eboni “has always been easy to work with, eager to learn and very motivated to come to tutoring and work together.” At first at tutoring, they would primarily work on homework assignments, such as Eboni’s math homework. Now Susan finds herself assisting Eboni with longer papers, big projects and stepping more into her mentoring role as they try to figure out Eboni’s future after she graduates in June!

Besides academic tutoring, Susan and Eboni will occasionally go out on the town. They have gone to the movies, Bulls games, out to lunch and have even shopped together for particular occasions, such as when Susan has helped pick out dresses for some of Eboni’s formal school dances. Susan also picks Eboni up from school in Kenwood and will sometimes attend her school events. According to Susan “We always have fun when we’re together.”

Susan has found it a pleasure to work with Eboni over the years and is excited to be helping her through the college admissions process in whatever way she can, though admittedly, Eboni has taken a lot of initiative and has made considerable progress on college-related stuff with her church groups and school counselors/teachers. At this point, they’re both waiting to see what Eboni’s financial aid package will be at Florida A&M University, her 1st choice school. Throughout the years Susan has supported Eboni as she changed her desired career path from medicine in favor of embracing her more creative side and becoming more serious about studying journalism.

When asked what has kept her volunteering at Cabrini Connections over the years she replies “My bond with Eboni has kept me here, the sense that I’m doing something for someone else.” However, reflecting on her time here she offers “I feel like Cabrini Connections has changed a lot, it’s taken a lot of different directions, I feel like right now it’s really student friendly and getting everyone more involved. There are lots of initiatives being taken that are good for everyone here”. Thanks so much for your hard work and dedication Susan! That’s why you’re in the volunteer spotlight!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Student Spotlight: Sean Mayfield

8th grader Sean Mayfield came into our program 2 years ago straight from Cabrini Green Tutoring Program with his tutor, Alan (AJ) Tyson in tow. In fact, it was Alan who first told Sean about our program here at Cabrini Connections and originally encouraged him to continue on past 6th grade. We’re glad they did because Sean has become one of the most active and engaged students here at Cabrini Connections. He constantly goes above and beyond, seeking out ways to get involved and taking leadership positions, despite only being in 8th grade. For instance, he is the youngest student on our Youth Leadership Council, which he was voted onto by his peers and their mentors. He also came into our center each week over the past summer to be the beta tester for Steve and Alice’s Tech Club, which meets on Tuesday nights and has grown exponentially since the summer. Through his involvement in Tech Club, he has acquired the skills to design his own website, which is now up and running with personal content.

Sean and his mentor AJ have come to be quite close over the past 4 years. One thing they both share is a love for reading, which they often do together. For instance, right now they are reading a collection of science fiction short stories entitled “The Martian Odyssey.” In fact, most days after school when Sean isn’t here at Cabrini Connections working on homework or with tech club, you can find him at the Borders near North and Clybourn, soaking in as many books as he can. Besides sci-fi, he has a particular affinity for Manga, or Japanese comics, for the uninitiated.

Despite his literary passions, Sean’s favorite subject is Math, which he has been exposed to a great deal since he attends Newberry Math and Science Academy. He’ll soon be changing schools however as he enters high school next year. Remarkably, Sean was admitted to all 6 of the high schools to which he applied, including Noble Street Charter, UIC College Prep and Rauner College Prep. He has decided to attend Rauner where he will work hard towards accomplishing his dream of becoming a video game designer.

Although he does play a lot of video games, Sean has another factor motivating him to become a video game designer…his 29 year old brother, who is currently in the Air Force, has worked as a video game designer, designing games for game boy, PC and Playstation 2, including the new Street Fighter game.

In addition to being featured in the student spotlight, to reward him for all his hard work, Sean will be attending a free dinner at Charlie Trotter’s next Tuesday, where he will eat dinner with other youth leaders in our program and learn about careers in culinary arts. Congratulations Sean and bon appetit!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Earlier this week Dan and I met with Liz Weber, a co-coordinator of campusCATALYST, which is a relatively new organization at Northwestern that gives undergraduates a chance to work with Kellogg MBA students, taking on a consulting role for local non-profits. Cabrini Connections, The Tutor/Mentor Connection was selected as one of the 5 organizations that they will be consulting with during this upcoming Spring quarter. Therefore, we met in order to determine an area of need that a team of 5 undergraduates and 1 Kellogg MBA could tackle in the coming months. Dan and I decided that this would be a good opportunity to try to expand our "Business School Connection" model, which sees business schools as resource-rich potential partners that should have a vested interest in working with youth tutor/mentor organizations around the city.

We are hoping that this partnership could be loosely modeled after our Lawyers Lend a Hand Program, which brings together lawyers of all stripes from the Chicago Bar Association who are interested in using their networks and resources to "lend a hand" to at-risk kids throughout the city in the form of renewable grants to Chicago Tutor/Mentor Programs. Last year the "Lend A Hand" program distributed over $200,000 in grants to 27 different tutor/mentor programs to be used for general operating funds, the most difficult yet useful type of funding for programs like ours to receive.

With this project, we’re aiming to use campusCATALYST's talents and relationships with the Kellogg school of Business to increase their engagement with tutoring/mentoring programs across the city, including our own. The skills and expertise that business schools impart on their students and alumni are exactly the kinds of skills that tutor/mentor programs need to increase their effectiveness and impact on the kids they serve. For example, in conceptualizing the relative lack of tutor/mentor programs compared to the number of at-risk kids who need them, it is helpful to think of it as a marketing and distribution problem. We’re selling hope and opportunity delivered by adult tutors and mentors. For kids, volunteers and business partners to respond, we must have a good product, we must offer effective services and we must have as many distribution points as possible so our services are easy to access, we must have great people and we must sell, sell, sell!

We feel that business must be more responsible for youth entering the workforce. They cannot depend on public schools or the government to create a system that will be competitive with education to careers programs in other countries. We believe that in today’s climate of increasing corporate social responsibility, high profile business schools, such as Kellogg School of Management, have an opportunity to take the lead in encouraging and supporting business involvement in the process of pulling at-risk kids towards college and careers. The Tutor/Mentor Connection has already met with faculty and leaders of a number of Chicago business schools with a goal of enlisting faculty at one school to become a partner with the Tutor/Mentor Connection the way the Chicago Bar Association has become a partner through our “Lawyers Lend a Hand” initiative and in the way that www.verizonreads.org supports literacy programs throughout the country. These organizations believe in the effectiveness of tutor/mentor programs in bringing about a wide variety of positive youth outcomes including but not limited to: improved grades and self-esteem, improved H.S. graduation and college matriculation rates, reduced likeliness of teen pregnancy, initiation of drug and alcohol use and improved school attendance.

The partnership we are seeking is significantly different from traditional philanthropy, which often initiates a project and then asks the organization to seek other sources to keep it going. We are aiming to create a sustainable partnership where Kellogg and other business schools take a leadership role in channeling resources to tutor/mentor programs around the city, helping to pull disadvantaged kids to success, to careers and towards making a positive contribution to society.

Once this resource stream is established, we want to develop a competition between business schools around the city and country to put together teams of students and alumni to fight to raise the most funds and/or bring much needed resources to the many under-funded tutor/mentor programs in each city. Since tutor/mentor programs offer a unique solution to some of the most hot-button social issues of our time: poverty, educational inequity, corporate social responsibility…etc, this provides business schools a great opportunity to use their resources to make a big impact on at-risk youth while at the same time, building positive PR for their schools and developing tomorrows workforce.

Interested in this idea? email me at chris.warrens.mail(at)gmail.com and we can discuss some different ways to get involved

Friday, March 6, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Charlie Megan

This week we’re proud to put 3 year veteran tutor, Charlie Megan, in the Volunteer Spotlight! Back in 2006 Charlie was looking to get involved in youth mentoring through Big Brothers/Big Sisters. He found himself seated next to Cabrini Connections Founder and CEO, Dan Bassill at a Union League Club annual dinner and the next thing Charlie knew, he was paired up and working with Jones College Prep freshman, George Johnson, his current mentee. At that time George had been bouncing around between a handful of tutors looking for the right match. Upon Charlie’s arrival, they hit it off right off the bat and started making great strides with George’s math coursework. Charlie found that, since George has the smarts to be getting good grades in math, they would focus on improving his organization, making sure to get him in the habit of writing out all the steps as he arrived to a particular solution.

However, Charlie’s mentoring role has taken different forms at different times to suit his student’s particular needs. During the past few years, Charlie has worked to earn George’s trust and friendship, focusing on building their repoire so he can be more responsive to George’s needs. To this end, Charlie has also been building a relationship with George’s family. For example, he went to his 8th grade graduation and was able to meet his parents and some extended family. Charlie stays in particularly good contact with George’s mother. They typically exchange emails about 3 times per week, updating each other on George’s status, challenges, achievements…etc. as well as to confirm that George will be attending tutoring each week. Charlie has also made an effort to develop relationships with individuals at George’s school, such as his school counselor, to stay abreast of any important developments at school. He also ensures that they meet once a month outside of our center for dinner or just to go shopping together for school supplies.

Though Charlie had never mentored youth before starting here at Cabrini Connections, he has always had a fondness for teaching—he taught at a sailing school growing up. For this reason, he has found his time here to be a real learning experience. However, in his relationship with George, Charlie has found out that the key factor is consistency. George knows exactly what to expect from him week after week and can count on him to be there for him.

Having studied finance at Michigan State and gone on to start his own real estate development firm, Red Ceder Partners, Charlie is no stranger to the hard work and dedication it takes to see a project through to completion. Thus, we are confident that he and George will stay the course and reap the rewards of the significant investment they’ve made in each other. Congratulations Charlie and keep up the great work!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

College Program: It’s College and Career Month!

This March is an exciting time at Cabrini Connections: College and Career Month. This month we’ll be focusing on preparing for college and careers and today’s post will focus on developing your student’s professional skills.

As tutors and mentors we often focus on the academic and personal side of the relationship with our students, but it is also important to focus on your student’s professional development. At-risk youth especially need their tutors to introduce them to the values and norms of the professional world. As a supportive adult in your student’s life you can play a critical role in teaching your student skills that will pay off over the course of your student’s working life.

It is often hard to imagine a student as a professional. After all, as adults we look at our students and want them to enjoy being young. However, the teenage years are perfect for planting the seeds of professionalism in your student and for beginning to cultivate a mature and responsible young adult.

Students require basic training in professional skills that we often take for granted at work: punctuality, good posture, appropriate dress and speech, and organization, just to name a few. Teaching students to take personal responsibility, particularly through punctuality and good organization skills are often (hopefully) skills that your student receives some training in at their school. The finer points of professional, knowing how to dress and speak, are often harder to teach a student. These skills are nevertheless important in helping your student prepare for future job and college interviews and for interacting in a professional environment.

A good way to introduce a high school aged student to professionalism is through a practice mock interview and job shadowing. Help your student prepare a resume, one that highlights their academic achievements, extracurricular activities and an work or volunteer experience they might have and give your student a mock interview for college admissions or job. This exercise will help a student understand the functions and importance of a resume and interviews. Job shadowing can demonstrate the importance of etiquette and professional dress at work. If you have a student shadow you at work, ask them to take notes and report back to you on their observations. Some questions for observations on professionalism can include:

  • How do the employees of this workplace speak to each other?
  • How do the employees of this workplace dress? Make sure you explain the purpose of your dress code to your student and note that workplace dress codes vary. Some workplaces require business professional or business casual dress while others require a uniform or permit casual dress
  • When do employees take breaks from work?
  • How do employees share resources, i.e. workspace, supplies to equipment?

Taking the time to focus on professionalism with your student will introduce them to skills and experiences that will frame how they approach the professional world as a young adult. If you address this topic with your student, you can help them become comfortable with behaving professionally and another step toward success.


Student Spotlight: Marcus Burks

Wells Prep 8th grader Marcus Burks is glad to be involved with Cabrini Connections. Despite living on the South Side, Marcus is determined to show up each and every week to tutoring and has had perfect attendance so far during this brutal winter. Although Marcus has been paired up with his Mentor Joe Fridlin since the 5th grade, this is their first year active in our program. They met through Marcus’ cousin when Marcus was involved in a youth program at the old YMCA. They stayed in touch and are now building a strong mentoring relationship. They often find themselves working on social studies and reading, subjects where Marcus seeks improvement.

When not at Cabrini Connections, Marcus is the starting small forward and shooting guard for his school's basketball team . Although last year he didn’t get a lot of playing time, with a new basketball coach who appreciates Marcus’ talent despite his small stature, this year Marcus is having a great season!

Despite being only in 8th grade, Marcus is inspired to become a lawyer. He sees himself getting his degree at Northwestern University and going on to study law. Maybe it’s just the glasses, but all throughout Marcus’ life people have commented on his ability to argue and make his point articulately. Being as committed as he is to his future, Marcus attended a college visit and information session at Westwood College this fall with a group of other students. He even met with the dean of the college, whom he impressed with his intelligence and charm.

Like many of us, Marcus can’t wait until it’s summer again, so he can hit the neighborhood pool and hang out with his friends without worrying about getting frostbite! By then, he’ll know what high school he will be attending. He’s hoping to get accepted to Whitney Young, one of the most competitive schools in the entire city. However, Marcus knows that success doesn’t depend solely on what school he attends; he knows that either way, he’s going to have to take advantage of opportunities at programs like ours to connect with people all over the city who can help ensure his success! Congratulations Marcus and keep up the great work!