Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Closing Achievement Gap Conference 4/22/10

I've been invited to do a workshop at the Closing the Achievement Gap Conference that will be held at the University of Iowa next Thursday, 4/22

I was browsing the agenda and saw that Greg Darnieder, Special Assistant to the Secretary on College Access, US Dept of Education, will be doing a keynote. Small world. I first met Greg in 1975 when he became the leader of the tutoring/program at LaSalle Street Church in Chicago.

For a few years Greg was an active part of a network of leaders that included people from the 4th Presbyterian Church tutoring program, the program I led at Montgomery Ward, and a couple of programs hosted by Continental Bank and Quaker Oats Company. Then about 1980, Greg took his program in a different direction, focus more on in school support and formal learning activities than on building bridges connecting volunteers with inner city youth.

We've run into each other off and on, and Greg has had held a number of positions with growing influence in public education in the years since we first met. It's funny how this conference brings us back together once again.

Another reason I'm happy to be attending is that one of our alumni, Jabar Norman, is attending the University of Iowa. I just sent him a note on Facebook saying I'd be there and hope he attends the conference.

This illustrates who Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection differ in purpose and strategy from public education. We're trying to connect kids with adults who help those kids grow up. To do that we need safe places where we can host the connections between kids and volunteers. That's our space at 800 W. Huron in Chicago. It costs us more than $70,000 a year for rent, utilities and insurance alone. That money has to come from donors.

Yet, without the space we can't maintain the connections. Jabar started with us when he was in 7th or 8th grade. He had the same tutor for several years and that volunteer is now with GE in Minneapolis. We're all three still connected because of the way we're using the Internet to connect people and ideas. Jabar's sends us a generous donation every year to help keep the program going.

Thus, the connections that get started in one year keep on giving benefit to this community and its members many years into the future.

How many schools, or teachers, stay connected to kids the way we're trying to stay connected to our teens and volunteers? How many schools have teachers who model workplace careers different than teaching? If we want kids to aspire to be engineers, lawyers, technology managers, etc. we need to expose them to people who do that work, and have a passion for it. Cabrini Connections does that by recruiting volunteers from diverse workplace backgrounds.

Schools don't do this very consistently. Even if it's part of their strategy, it's difficult for people with full time jobs to make weekly commitments to visit a school during the school day and build a relationship with kids. Maybe they can do that once a year. Not three or four times a month. We can do that because we operate in hours when people are leaving work, when the volunteers are available. Most schools don't do this.

If making one program like Cabrini Connections available in one neighborhood to 80 teens is valuable, then what do cities need to do to make programs like this available in many neighborhoods to 30 or 40 thousand k-12 youth?

This is what I'll be talking about next week. It's what I write about on this blog.

If you're asking the same question, I hope you'll begin to use the T/MC as a resource, and help us find the money to keep us in business, and in Chicago.

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