Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Keeping Track of 300 Chicago Tutor/Mentor Programs

I've been collecting information about Chicago area non-school tutor/mentor programs since 1993 in an effort to make better information available so more people would be doing the marketing and capacity building needed to make constantly improving tutor/mentor programs available in more high poverty neighborhoods.

I use this term "constantly improving" instead of "evidence based" or "high quality" because no program starts as a "great program" and hopefully they are are looking at what other people do well and building their own programs based on what they see. If they have the needed resources each program should constantly learn from their own efforts, what other people do, and what research is telling us and applying what they learn, along with what resources they have, to get better from year to year.

That's what I mean by "constantly improving" and it can't happen without a consistent flow of resources into programs and without the ability to retain talented people for multiple years.

So I've been building this database and trying to keep it updated. I also share the information via a map-based program locator, that also requires constant update.

The problem is, I've never had enough manpower on a consistent basis to do this as well as it needs to be done. There are more than 400 listings in my database who need to be contacted every year just to determine if they still offer any form of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring. That in itself is a huge challenge. There are many more questions I'd like to be asking, but just maintaining the basis core of information has proven to be an almost impossible task.

Even if I could be collecting this information in all the ways I want, it would do little good unless I had a massive advertising and public education budget that enabled me to be sharing this with all the people who needed to know it. I don't have such a budget and never will.

And furthermore, I don't think any single person or organization should be depended upon to be the master library of tutor/mentor knowledge in a city. I think that information needs to be part of the organizational history of many different groups, not just tutor/mentor programs, but of schools, colleges, churches, mosques, businesses, etc.
Helping kids grow up takes 20 to 25 years in the best of circumstances. If kids live in neighborhoods of high poverty they face many challenges kids in more affluent areas don't face. The adult support system needs to be broader and it needs to last longer.

That means that the knowledge I'm collecting needs to continue to build for decades, not just years. I won't live that long. Small non profits will have trouble lasting that long. Thus, I'm looking for "bricks and mortar" partners who have a long-term investment in a neighborhood. This could be colleges, high schools, faith groups, businesses, etc. It could be a different lead organization in every zip code. Each could have teams of people collecting and updating information about tutor/mentor programs in their area, and sharing this via on-line portals and a master directory like the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator.

I created this PDF essay to illustrate this problem and the opportunity for students in service learning programs or teams from local business or civic groups to take ownership of this process for a single zip code or community area.

I hope you'll take a look and will contact me to volunteer to take on this information hub role for your own community.

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