Want to help close the achievement gap in your community? Starting an after school tutoring program is a surefire way to ensure your local kids get the academic help they need. We spoke with Carla Sanger, the President and CEO of LA’s Best, the nation’s oldest (and quite possibly largest) after-school program, serving 180 elementary schools and offering recreation and academic assistance to 28,000 kids every day. Here are her tips for getting your tutoring program off the ground.
1. Connect with established programs. Check with local programs like LA’s Best, your local school district, YMCA or other educational non-profits for support and ideas. They know your community, have expertise and can help you think through all the nuts and bolts.
2. Partner with a school. Chances are, schools with low test scores located in neighborhoods with high crime rates have kids that can use your help. Plus, administrators and teachers can steer students in need of tutoring your way, and help you with logistics like permission slips and student contact information. Added bonus: If you can use a classroom at the school site you don’t have to hunt for tutoring space.
3. Recruit the locals. Effective tutors build relationships. Sanger advocates, “intentional and vigorous recruiting from the communities where you’re going to work, because those are the people who can most understand the kids.” If your tutors come from outside the students' community, make sure they have culturally aware attitudes. “They need to understand that these kids are very smart and have a lot of assets, resources and knowledge.”
4. Train your tutors. “You don’t just pick up a book and start tutoring,” says Sanger. Tutors need to learn how to build students’ trust and respect. “Maya Angelou said you may not remember what somebody said but you’ll always remember how they made you feel,” she says. Otherwise, just as a kid ditches school, they’ll ditch the tutor. Also, train your tutors how to break concepts down for kids without using abstract, class-based metaphors. If the kids can’t relate, they’ll tune out.
5. Critical thinking. Helping kids complete homework reinforces standards-based classroom instruction, but while doing so, tutors should teach kids critical thinking skills. “Tutoring isn’t just a knowledge transfer,” says Sanger. “Help kids identify where they’re stuck and teach them how to think through solutions because that’s a lifelong skill.”
6. Hook the parents. Send home information about your tutoring program before it starts and hold a parent orientation to explain your program’s structure and goals. Make sure to hold the orientation at times convenient to a working parent’s schedule. You may also need to provide second language translation. Once your program gets going, plan to give parents regular updates on their children’s progress.
7. Keep it manageable. If this is your first time tutoring, you don’t have to start out with huge numbers of tutors and students. Even if it’s just you and a couple of community members each tutoring a few students, your efforts will make a difference. “You’re teeing these kids up to be successful so make a meaningful connection with them.” says Sanger.
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