New Trier teens gain as much as the Chicago elementary students they tutor during the "Power Hour"
By Brian Cox / Special to the Tribune 08/03/2010
On most summer days, 15-year-old Olivia Loucks practices diving or helps out in her mother’s north suburban gallery. But for two mornings a week the Winnetka teenager and five friends make the trek into the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago to tutor elementary school children.
Winnetka and Rogers Park are only 10 miles apart, but there is a stark difference in the economic and educational opportunities offered in the two communities. Loucks said that’s why she jumped at the opportunity when a friend asked her to sign up to teach in the “Power Hour” tutoring program.
“These kids are already kind of behind in their reading level, and during the summer they can get even more behind because there’s no books available to them,” said Loucks, a New Trier High School sophomore. “It’s surprising how much they get out of the Power Hour. I see more of a difference every time we go.”
Bill Holland has been tutoring kids in Rogers Park during the regular school year. Power Hour began after his granddaughter, Hannah Caywood, 14, asked why the tutoring did not continue throughout the summer. Holland suggested that she start a summer tutoring program. Within a week Caywood had rounded up seven friends as volunteers, including a few substitutes. A few days after that they held their first tutoring session at the Family Matters community center at 7731 N. Marshfield Ave. in Chicago.
“The kids really don’t have that many opportunities to get a hold of books,” Caywood said. “It’s like a really great opportunity for both of us because they get to learn how to read and we get to experience this — this new neighborhood. “It’s just opening our eyes to a lot of different things,” the teen said. “There’s a lot more unemployment, I guess, than we have where we live.”
The Power Hour is held on Monday and Wednesday mornings. On a typical day the elementary schools kids work with their tutors to develop their reading and writing skills.
“It is as meaningful for these high school students as it is for these youngsters,” Holland said. “These kids from the north suburbs have passed through Rogers Park, but by tutoring there they’re seeing a very different side of Chicago. This is a different setting for these high school kids. Eye opening, and mind expanding.”
A centerpiece of Power Hour is the “Frequent Tryers Program” in which the kids being tutored sign a contract promising to read at home for 20 minutes at least four times a week. The students’ parents initial a Frequent Tryers Program sheet each time their child completes their reading assignment. As a reward, the teenage tutors and Holland take the kids to a different library, then out for a treat.
The group has visited the Rogers Park branch of the Chicago public library and the main branch of the Evanston library. On their most recent outing, they took the el to the Harold Washington Library Center on State Street in Chicago. “We get to pick out new books and I’m excited because it’s downtown,” said Ahniya Bell, 10, of the trip to the main branch of the Chicago public library. “We get to travel and see different libraries around town. Different libraries have different books. I like to look at different books.”
Marisol Moso, 11, said she enjoys reading about the history of Chicago, and, “how it was back in the day.” She always does her at-home reading assignments, and said she feels like the Power Hour program has prepared her for the regular school year, which resumes in a few weeks. “It’s really helping me,” she said.
Alexi Siegel, 14, of Wilmette, said she volunteered to be a tutor in the program because she thought it would be interesting and because she wants to help kids who have not had the same opportunities she has had. She bristled at the suggestion that she and her friends were volunteering because their work with inner city kids would look good on college entry applications.
“It’s all about helping these kids,” Alexi said. “I’ve had a really great education, and I want to take what I’ve learned and extend it to them.”
Jennifer Bricker, associate director of community tutoring with Family Matters, said it has been interesting seeing how the teenage tutors from the affluent suburbs interact with the elementary school students from more humble backgrounds. “I think that often times when entering communities you’ve never been in you come with a lot of presuppositions, ideas of what things are. You just assume everyone has the same things you have or can handle things the same way,” Bricker said.
“The one-on-one relationship makes a difference because they get to know each other on an equal playing field,” she added. “I think it’s an incredible opportunity especially for the New Trier students to get a taste of life somewhere different, and have an opportunity to offer something back.”