Tutor Reflection: Zoe and Melissa

Zoe, a recent graduate of Francis Parker School in Chicago, wrote the following Senior Colloquium Story about her experience as a tutor at Family Matters. Thank you Zoe for volunteering your time and for sharing your reflection with us!
Zoe and Melissa during a tutoring session
            Family Matters, the organization through which I began tutoring this fall, always smells like popcorn.  The building which was likely once a condo on Marshfield in the North of Howard neighborhood is distinguishable from the outside only by the small green sign posted beneath the second floor windows; there are still small kitchens on every floor, which I walk through once each week to sign in before beginning my sessions with Melissa.  Everywhere, children are running.  Some hold books, others munch on the popcorn that is perfuming the building, and others still untie their shoes, placing them in small cubbies in a practice that is both practical, preventing Chicago schoolyard slush from wetting the floors, and further perpetuates the homey feeling throughout the building.  Keri, one of the directors, greets kids by name, asking about how their days were, asking after their families.
            On the day of my first tutoring session with Melissa, an eighth grade girl described as “on target” yet “wanting support,” Keri greeted me with the same warmth with which she greeted her students.  She and I had met the week before for a tutor orientation, and I was already familiar with her blond ponytail and friendly glasses.  She introduced me to Melissa, who had been coming to Family Matters herself for years, handed me Melissa’s binder, and led the both of us to a small room on the third floor that was to become “our space” for the next year. 
            Once alone, I began asking Melissa a series of questions suggested as “ice breakers” in the binder.  Though she was shy, discussion of our favorite foods (“ghetto fries” and Tim Tam cookies are Melissa’s favorites, which, though I promised her I would in October, I have yet to try) and favorite classes soon loosened conversation.  We quickly did away with the binder’s suggested conversation topics, opting to casually ask questions of each other about our families, our summers, our extracurricular interests, etc.  She asked me questions about high school, both social and academic.  That day, we did none of her homework.
            Of course, our sessions following were more serious.  I kept in touch with Keri about Melissa’s progress via a GoogleDoc, and Melissa and I worked weekly on her reading assignments, on geometry and algebra, and on vocabulary.  I shared with her games I had played in my eighth grade English class to learn vocabulary, running across the room with a fly swatter to whack the word on a window that corresponded with the definition read by our teacher.  We struggled together over math problems, and I tried in vain to describe what exactly a derivative was when asked what I was doing in my math classes now.  We read through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbirda book I hadn’t read since I was 12, and pieced together motifs that came up throughout the book.  (I also gained, while working through To Kill a Mockingbird, a greater appreciation for my English teachers and their ability to filter through spoilers; when I accidentally referenced too early Scout’s meeting Boo Radley, Melissa’s confused expression indicated that I had to quickly backtrack.)
            Alongside helping Melissa with her schoolwork, I also helped her write her application essays to Chicago high schools.  This was particularly poignant work for me, as I myself was working on writing application essays to colleges.  The both of us worked to condense our complete selves into several printed pages, discerning the most insightful ways to answer vague prompts like “Tell us about an aspect of your identity” and “What matters to you and why?” 
            Now that I have enrolled in college and Melissa has been admitted to Senn’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program, our mutual focus has turned to our impending graduations.  We have discussed, in many of our recent sessions, how we feel about leaving the schools and communities in which we have grown up.  We’ve talked about our excitement, about making new friends, about reinventing ourselves, and about having the opportunities to take classes and get involved in extracurriculars that we’ve never even heard of.  We’ve also talked about the fears we have, worries that coursework will be too hard, or worries that we won’t be able to keep in touch with old friends or won’t make lasting new ones.  Both Melissa and I have attended the same schools with the same few people since we were four years old, and both of us feel nervous about leaving the communities we have become so deeply entrenched in.  And yet, as I will remind Melissa today, May 14, at our final tutoring session, I know that the both of us will succeed over the next four years. 

A Special Tutoring Project

Guest Post by Jennifer Gaspers, Monday Evening Tutor

Family Matters had a great opportunity, thanks to fellow Monday night tutor, Jenn Kloc. Her company, Jellyvision*, holds a silent auction every year and chooses a non-profit to donate the proceeds to. This year Family Matters was chosen! Jenn invited Family Matters students to create some items (art pieces, jewelry, etc.) to sell at the auction on May 16th. 
My tutee, Ivette, and I wanted to participate. Learning how to brainstorm, Ivette created a list of things she might like to make. Once we formulated a list, we narrowed it down, eliminating things that would be cost prohibitive. We decided to make jewelry – bracelets with matching earrings – out of colored rubber bands using a loop loom. Ivette had received a loom and colored rubber bands for Christmas, and  she assured me it was easy to learn to use; she would teach me how to do it.  And I offered to bring the earring hooks and show her how to attach the hooks with a jewelry tool.
For the next three tutoring sessions, we set aside time for making bracelets and earrings, creating four different styles. We paired four earring and bracelet sets together, and packaged them in colorful, handmade origami boxes for presentation at the auction. Finally, we had to decide how much the minimum bid ought to be. We estimated the cost of the rubber bands together with the time it took to make each set, and settled on $15/set as a minimum bid. 
Working on the jewelry

It was so much fun to create a project with Ivette that was completely directed by her creativity and comfort level!  She learned how long it took to make a jewelry set, how to brainstorm her creative abilities, and how to price items based on time and costs. And what did I learn? I learned how to loop loom using rubber bands from Ivette. This experience also reminded me that I can learn something new at any age, from anyone.

The finished product!

*Family Matters is so grateful to be the recipient of this year’s proceeds from Jellyvision’s auction. Thank you, Jellyvision!

Beyond Tutoring: Fixing a Tablet Computer one Saturday Afternoon

Brad Schwarzhoff shares a story about helping students through the Evening Tutoring program at Family Matters.

For the past few years, I’ve been working with my student Jaime during the evening tutoring program.   During our weekly sessions, I often share my knowledge of technology with Jaime, whether it’s adding some memory to a computer, learning the basics of programming, or most recently, fixing a tablet computer.

Jaime and Brad at tutoring

I’ve gotten to know Jaime’s family since I’ve been his tutor, including Jaime’s brother Marino, who is also a student in the evening tutoring program.  Jaime and Marino were lucky enough to obtain their own tablet computers through a program at their school. On one sad December day, Marino accidentally dropped his tablet and shattered the screen.

A month later a replacement screen was ordered and we spent a Saturday afternoon fixing the tablet.

The tablet in its sad state


We pulled up a youtube video on how to fix a screen on this particular tablet.

Following along with the video, we took apart the tablet, replaced the screen, and re-assembled the tablet. We ran into a couple of challenges along the way, persevered, and were triumphant in the end.

Marino removing the tablet battery

Through some hard work and perseverance, Marino and Jaime learned how their tablets are assembled, and learned how tablets work internally. As a result, they have additional pride when using their tablets.  I learned that it can be more fun to to fix a tablet when you’re teaching someone how to do it.  (A pointer for those of you who may also have a cracked tablet or phone screen – there’s a wealth of information on the internet, including videos that will show you how to do almost anything you want to do, including fix your own electronics.  Be brave and give it a try!)

A happy Marino with his good-as-new tablet.

I’ve now been tutoring at Family Matters for over 7 years.  It has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding experience that I’ve ever been a part of.  It truly is a wonderful organization, and I highly recommend getting involved.

Brad Schwarzhoff

Family Matters evening tutor

Reflection from an Evening Tutor

Holly Smirl shares a reflection about working with her student Jica’h in the Evening Tutoring program at Family Matters.

When I first saw the flyer to recruit volunteer tutors for Family Matters posted on our church bulletin board, I did not take much notice.  As I passed by this flyer each week, I began to feel like it had been placed there just for me.  Despite my reservations of whether I had the time to commit, I called Family Matters and asked about the tutoring program.   As a former teacher, I knew I had something to offer Family Matters and I knew that I could find the time in my schedule for something this important.  After my visit, I was also so impressed with Family Matters that I felt excited and privileged to be a part of this special organization…an organization that cares so much for the neighborhood youth that they support them with afterschool clubs, evening tutoring, summer camps, teen programs and so much more. 
The rest is history.
I have been tutoring at Family Matters in Rogers Park for almost seven years now.  I have been tutoring the same young man for almost that entire time.  I started tutoring Jica’h when he was in second grade.  He is in eighth grade now and preparing himself for the transition into high school. 
Jica’h is a truly fantastic kid.  With his strong family bonds, his hard work and the support of Family Matters, he has developed into an exceptional young man.  I originally began tutoring Jica’h in reading, and now we work on all subjects… including homework!!  Jica’h and I have “conquered” math percentages, reading comprehension, the Vietnam War, and science projects.  Most recently, we have reviewed Jica’h’s unit on the Civil Rights Era.  We even leave a few minutes of time at the end of our tutoring sessions to play foosball.  He beats me every time; although it is a great way to bond… and feel like a kid again!
Jica’h has become like a member of my family.  He knows my children and husband well, and we often go out to eat or spend time as a whole family.  We have a wonderful relationship with Jica’h’s mom and dad, too, and we feel so special to have attended many of his birthday parties, basketball games and family events.  I know that the bond I have formed with Jica’h and his family and the bond that he has formed with my family will be life-long.
I am thankful each day that I answered the ad that I saw hanging on our church bulletin board seven years ago.  By being a volunteer tutor at Family Matters, I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people who care about others, and have increased my family size.  It is an honor to be part of an organization that REALLY IS changing lives.  I can testify that this is true because the relationship that Jica’h and I share has been life-changing for both of us.
Holly Smirl

Reflection from an Evening Tutor

Jenn Kloc shares a reflection about working with her student Arlene in the Evening Tutoring program at Family Matters.

When I returned to Chicago after a year in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, I found myself settling into a neighborhood I barely knew: Rogers Park. Aside from visiting my sister when she studied at Loyola, teaching English to a woman who lived off the Jarvis stop, and attending a few theater and music performances off the Morse stop, I never had a reason to spend much time in the neighborhood.

When I discovered Family Matters, I knew it was a perfect fit for me — an opportunity to learn more about my new community, and, as an enthusiastic advocate of volunteering, an opportunity to get involved.
I decided to volunteer as a tutor/mentor in the Evening Tutoring program where I was matched with Arlene: a sweet, spunky and smart fourth-grader who, like me, lives in Rogers Park. Building a relationship with Arlene has been a welcome exercise in remembering what it’s like to be a fourth grader. She gets excited about reading mystery books and daydreaming about Hawaii. She jumps at any opportunity to play math or science games on the computer, and she always compliments my nail polish. I helped her plan and execute a fourth grade Science Fair project, and she proudly earned an A-. She is a hard worker and a serious student, so I never have to prod her to focus on her assignments. During our time together, she concentrates on the lesson at hand, eager to grasp it and move on to more fun things like solving the mysteries we choose to read from Family Matters’ library.
Working with Arlene is also an opportunity to support her parents as they navigate her academic world. Arlene and her family speak Spanish at home, and when she had parent-teacher conferences first semester, I went along in case her dad wanted assistance communicating with her English-speaking teacher. I also use my Spanish language skills during parent meetings at tutoring so that Arlene’s parents are able to contribute to and understand the goals we set at Family Matters. And Arlene’s parents have told me about some of the best places to shop and eat in my neighborhood, making it feel more like home. 
Overall, my experiences working with Family Matters have been fantastic. The time I spend with Arlene benefits me on a personal level just as much or more than it supports her in excelling at school, and for that I’m really grateful. She has taught me the ropes of my Rogers Park home and showed me what it means to her to live in the community.
Every Monday evening, I get to be a fourth grader again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
By Jenn Kloc