Thursday, April 29, 2021

How will Chicago's Changing Demographics Affect Availability of Tutor/Mentor Programs?

The first round of 2020 census information has been released showing population gains and losses for every state. As more detailed census data is released later this year I expect a round of new maps.  Below is a graphic from a recent WBEZ article showing demographic changes in Chicago between 1970 and 2017.  I've added a 1995 map created by the Tutor/Mentor Connection, showing poverty areas and known non-school tutor/mentor programs. 

I led two different programs between 1975 and 2011. The first served 2nd to 6th grade kids and grew from 100 pairs of kids/volunteers in 1975 to 440 kids and 550 volunteers by spring 1992.  The second started in January 1993 with five 7th and 8th graders and seven volunteers. By 1998 it was enrolling about 80 7th to 12th grade teens and 100 volunteers a year and some of  these were beginning to graduate from high school and head to college. The size of the space after 1999 limited growth and we served that many teens each year until I left in mid 2011.

The first program was started in 1965 by a small group of Montgomery Ward headquarters volunteers. In 1975 when I became leader its enrollment was 100 pairs, with 90% coming from Wards.  By 1992 that had changed to 10% coming from Wards and 90 percent from more than 100 companies in the Chicago region. Some worked at the ATT location in Naperville.

The second program was much smaller, but it's volunteers came from many different companies. Some had roots with Montgomery Ward, but that company went out of business in 2000.

We created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 at the same time as we were creating the site-based Cabrini Connections program.  The T/MC's goal was to help programs like the one I'd led for 17 years grow in more places. To do that we began a survey to learn who was already operating, then a campaign to share information among programs, and to attract resources to programs, so the each could constantly improve, and hopefully converge toward the 'mentor-rich" model we had led.

We started plotting locations on maps.  The one shown here,  from 2019, shows the distribution of nearly 200 locations, which vary greatly in size, type of program, effectiveness, etc.  

One thing all of our maps show is that there are too few programs in the South part of the city and even fewer in the suburban areas where poverty has been growing.

In creating the library and the maps the goal always was that more people would dig deeper into the data and that more people would be gathering to make sense of it and use that knowledge in actions that helped support a growing number of constantly improving programs in more places.  I used this lecture hall photo to visualize that idea.

That's really not happening nearly as much as I hoped.  

So here are a few questions

a) how has Covid19 and virtual learning affected the ability of site based programs to attract kids and volunteers to a neighborhood-based location?; how will virtual learning and on-line connections enhance these programs?

b) will anyone pick up the work I was doing and create a database of programs that sorts by age-group served (elementary, middle school, high school, college, etc) and type of program (pure tutor, pure mentor, tutor/mentor, arts, STEM, etc)?  Until we do that we really won't have a decent idea of program availability. When you look at my 2019 map it looks like a lot of green icons. However, if you sorted for high school programs only, there would be far fewer.

c) how will the demographic changes affect the ability for site based programs to be distributed in all high poverty neighborhoods?  Will some locate near expressways and find ways to draw volunteers to their locations during the evening commute to and from work?  

d) if programs move to a primarily virtual strategy, will volunteers form strong bonds with the kids and the programs in ways that turn some into leaders who go back to their companies to recruit other volunteers and corporate donations?  

e) how many programs will sustain their connections to kids for five, ten or 15 years, helping them from first grade, through high school and into college? Too few programs have a long-term strategy like this now.  No one that I know is even doing the market-research to understand what programs do have such a strategy. 

I've never been able to get foundation leaders to spend time on my blogs, learning from my experiences and the ideas I share, or even asking me to be part of their conversations.  Instead I keep seeing things like this We Will Chicago initiative from The Chicago Community Trust and a network of other foundations.

A couple of years ago the Chicago Tribune launched a ChicagoForward Initiative, which I wrote about here.  In this and the We Will Chicago initiative people are invited to submit suggestions.  I have 40 years of suggestions that don't condense into a one or two page summary. Instead, I invite foundation and community leaders to use my blog and website and on-line library to do their own learning.  

Maybe they will ask and try to answer some of the questions I've been asking.

I'd be happy to coach the process.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Follow Negative News with the "Rest of the Story"

There's plenty of bad news in the media and many non-profits working to change conditions that lead to these stories. I focus on volunteer-based youth tutor and/or mentor programs and have led a strategy for the past 28 years intended to help such programs grow in all high poverty areas of Chicago and other cities.  You can find more than 1200 articles on this blog that focus on this.

One challenge that most programs have is finding the operating dollars needed each year to host a space where kids and volunteers can meet, fill it with learning resources, such as computers and Internet access, and with paid staff who support both youth and volunteer involvement.

Most tutor/mentor programs are relatively small and don't have the type of staff most businesses do to advertise regularly and draw customers (donors, volunteers) to their locations.  Thus, they struggle to stay funded, or raise the level of funds needed.

Thus, in 1994 when I was launching the first survey of Tutor/Mentor programs in Chicago we began using maps to show where they were.  We published our list of programs in a Directory, starting in May 1994, and used maps to show where poverty was greatest and where existing programs were located.  We started putting this on-line in 1998 and launched an interactive program locator in 2004 and a map-based version in 2008.  Unfortunately after 2011 I was not able to keep these updated and the sites are now only available as an archive,.

I still plot program locations on a map, which you can find in this article, but no longer have the interactive features of the original program locator.

However, you can still zoom in and build an understanding of what programs are in different parts of the Chicago region.

We never had much money for advertising, and recognized that this was a weakness of many programs. Thus, we began a strategy I call "The Rest of the Story".  

When we saw media giving feature space attention to a "bad news" story, like one about poorly performing schools, gangs, or violence, we created a map showing where the incident took place, then used overlays to show the role of poverty.  We also showed locations of existing tutor/mentor programs in the area, and assets, like banks, drug stores, colleges, hospitals and faith groups, who are in the neighborhood and should be supporting efforts to make high quality, mentor-rich programs available to a growing number of k-12 youth.  

In the 1990s we put these map-stories in our newsletters and shared them at conferences.  We created maps for other youth programs, too.  In the 2000s we began to share these via email and our websites and in 2005 started putting them in blog articles.

However, too few people were seeing what we were publishing. Thus, I created a presentation showing how students and volunteers from schools throughout Chicago could be creating their own stories, modeled after the ones I've been doing.

Below is a presentation showing this strategy:

Note: I've been updating all of my Slideshare presentations and the ones I've embedded in past articles will no longer appear, since my updates have new locations.  I encourage you to visit my collection and bookmark it for future referral.

While I've struggled to keep my own mapping platform on-line others are creating robust data-mapping platforms.  Below is a concept map I created a few years ago to share some of these. 

Anyone creating "Rest of the Story" articles can use one or more of these platforms to build the base map you use in your article by zooming into the geographic area you're interested in, adding layers of information, then creating an image that you paste into Power Point or similar publishing tool. Then you can add additional information to the map. Once you're satisfied, save it as a JPG and you're ready to put it into a blog article, Tweet or Facebook/LinkedIn post.

If you're doing this please share your articles with me on Twitter or any of the social media platforms that you find in this link

If enough people adopt this strategy we can do much to make safe spaces available that help kids living in poverty areas move through school and into adult lives.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Digging Deeper into Social Capital Thinking

I've used graphics like this for many years to visualize the idea of a site based youth tutor, mentor and learning program where inner city kids connect with volunteers from a diverse range of career, age, geographic and religious backgrounds.

Over the past 20 years I've come to understand this as a form of bridging social capital, where youth form strong and weak ties with people who they don't regularly connect with through their own family, neighborhood or school.  For kids in high poverty areas this type of support system can be significant in helping them through school and into lives not dominated by poverty. Here's one article where I talk about bridging and bonding social capital.

As I learned about social capital, I also learned about social network analysis, which is a process of mapping networks and showing strong and weak ties.  I began to look for people who might help me apply this in the tutor/mentor program I led from 1993-2011, in an effort to demonstrate social capital as an outcome that donors might value and support.

In 2010 I was able to recruit some college interns and support from a leading SNA expert, Valdis Krebs, and set up this group on the Tutor/Mentor Connection Ning site to develop this capacity. Here's one blog demonstrating work that was done. Unfortunately this group did not continue beyond a few months and I've not found anyone doing this work since then.

Thus, I was delighted to find this article from The Christensen Institute on my Twitter feed.  

The Executive Summary of this article starts by saying, "Social capital describes students’ access to, and ability to mobilize relationships that help them further their potential and their goals like skills and knowledge, relationships offer resources that drive to opportunity."

The Executive Summary concludes, saying, "By intentionally measuring students’ social capital, education systems can start to build an evidence base for closing the social side of opportunity gaps and ensuring all students are supported equitably in their path to economic prosperity."

I put this article on so I could  highlight passages and add comments in the margins as I read it, which I did.  Then I shared it on Twitter and encouraged my #CLMOOC educator friends, including Terry Elliott, to read it with me.  

I wish many would take as much time to dig into information I share then to make these ideas available to others, with their own commentary.  Thank you, Terry.
Terry's perspective was a bit different from mine.  He offered concern about "more measuring" of students, and about privacy issues.  It made me step back and think more about how I was thinking.

The map/graphic below is from a PDF that I call "Defining Terms: Tutoring. Mentoring. Same words. Different Meanings."  I use the map to show that my focus is on kids living in high poverty areas of big cities like Chicago, who don't have as many ties to people who work in different types of jobs and careers and who have attended college and have advance degrees.  An organized, community-based, tutor/mentor program can help make those connections, or build social capital, but the programs need to be available near where kids live and consistently funded.

Because of the challenges of finding consistent dollars to support the tutor/mentor program I led, and of donor demands that programs show measurements of social or behavior change or academic improvement to get funding,  I've always been looking for a different outcome of these programs, that donors might support.  That outcome is: social capital.

For donors to see how organized programs that support multi year participation by students and volunteers from diverse backgrounds, there  has to be some form of measurement to show if social networks grow as a result of program participation. That's why the Christensen Institute article resonated so much with me.

However, most schools in America are not located in high poverty areas. Some have very few kids from low income neighborhoods.  Their students have naturally occurring support networks provided by family, community, church and a rich platter of school and afterschool activities.  Building "bridging social capital" for kids in these schools is not a high priority.

However, does that mean understanding and measuring social capital is not important?  In every school there are kids who are "left out" or "in the margins". Would a network analysis exercise help teachers and social workers identify these kids, and help them build stronger support networks? What would be the benefits of that?

I found this statement on page 14 of the report, showing that it's still rare to find people doing this type of work:

Although there are sophisticated methodologies to gauge network structure, rigorous efforts to measure the structure of students’ networks remain quite rare in practice.  We found no programs explicitly measuring the structural diversity of students’ networks. The innovative programs we’ve studied are using two main approaches to measure the structure of students’ closer-knit webs of support and friendship and to gauge the extent to which they are successfully diversifying the types of individuals in students’ networks: social network mapping and surveys.

I'm just happy to find someone writing about this.  

Thus, I hope you'll read the article, all 29 pages, and add your own comments and ideas and share with others, just as Terry did.  Maybe we'll find some others who are doing research in this area or have youth program designs that specifically focus on building bridging social capital, as an outcome. 

If you know of other articles please share them with me.  You can find more of my thinking about social capital and network analysis by clicking on those categories in the tabs at the left.  You can also find about 60 websites with information about social capital, in this sub section of my web library.

Speaking of networks. My work is funded by contributions from people in my networks. Visit this page and add your own support, if  you're able.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Recipe for Success – Who’s in Your Kitchen?

I first used this idea in an April 2007 article. I've updated it, but the ideas are the same. Nothing has changed.

Are you developing a program to help kids in your community? What’s your recipe? Do you have all the right ingredients? Who’s helping you? Who are you learning from? Read on if you’re concerned about the way your state is helping poor kids in your community move through school and to jobs and careers. 

The graphic at the left illustrates four issues that each have an impact on the nation’s ability to reach youth living in high poverty neighborhoods and help more of these kids grow from first grade into jobs and careers. 

For instance, we may all want to reduce drop out rates, or increase the number of minority men and women entering careers in law, medicine, engineering and the sciences. But do we have a DISTRIBUTION of programs reach kids in poverty neighborhoods?

Do we start these programs when kids are just entering school? Do we keep them going, with age-appropriate learning supports and career focused mentoring? Do we build student aspirations? Do we connect kids with men and women who can mentor the excitement and opportunities of these careers on an on-going basis, then open doors to scholarships and jobs? 

We all want better educated kids, but the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program of the early 2000s focused primarily on test scores, not the additional learning and enrichment and social/emotional support that many kids living in high poverty neighborhoods need. Following the lead of NCLB, donors put too much emphasis looking for test score evidence from youth mentoring and youth development programs. Furthermore, many of the advocates for a system of learning supports are still only focusing on the school as the place kids connect with mentors and extra learning. 

Read this April 2021 article where I share information from the Christensen Institute, focused on relationships as a valuable outcome of youth tutor/mentor programs. 

Why not use the non-school hours as another channel of learning and enrichment. In big cities like Chicago, this is perhaps the most likely time when a busy business volunteer will make a long-term mentoring connection with a youth living in a poverty neighborhood. 

Finally, we can’t have good programs in all the places we need them with the current level of FUNDING and the current focus on project funding vs. program and operations funding. In one section of the Tutor/Mentor library I focus on challenges facing non-profit organizations. These are the same struggles of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs that operate in the non-school hours. 

Below is a graphic I created to emphasize the need for on-going, flexible operating dollars to support youth tutor mentor programs that had a strategy that connects youth and volunteers for many years. Read the article at this link

Every time you visit a Tutor/Mentor Connection web site, or look at one of our maps or graphic illustrations, we want you to be thinking of the many different ingredients that go into the recipe for helping kids in poverty grow more successfully from first grade to first job and a career. 

This is a conversation that needs to be taking place in thousands of circles. In businesses, universities, hospitals, k-12 schools, and in churches and political organizations. In truth, we know these are taking place. However, the T/MC goal is to connect these conversations, just like we combine butter and sugar with other ingredients to make cookies. 

 We can make some of these connections at face to face conferences. However, the only way to keep these connections growing, and to keep learning from all of the research that is being generated each year, is to build our connections and learning on the Internet. This way we can learn and collaborate with people in other cities and countries, not just our own neighborhood. 

I've been building lists of Chicago tutor, mentor and learning programs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The only place that works well to view the programs on a list is Twitter. View my list here.   The only problem is that too few programs are actually posting on Twitter, or attempting to engage in conversations that identify what works and the challenges that every program faces.  It takes a commitment from every organization to build a network. Donors are not encouraging this from what I can see. 

 Who’s in your kitchen? How are you connecting different stakeholders in your own community? Can you connect your network to the T/MC, via one of the places where we're on social media?

In articles on this blog that I've posted since 2005,  I’ve linked to sections of the Tutor/Mentor Library with articles on each of the key issues that we need to understand, discuss and innovate new ways of doing the business of helping kids grow up and become part of the 21st century economy.

I encourage you to visit past articles and incorporate these into a curriculum that develops future leaders and supporters of youth tutor, mentor and learning programs throughout Chicago and America.

If you'd like my help in understanding the ideas just reach out to me on one of the social media platforms where I'm active. 

If you value the ideas I'm sharing, consider a small contribution to help me keep doing the work. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Learning from others. Don't re-invent the wheel.

 I saw this Tweet from an organization called "Education Reimagined" and was drawn to the statement “Hey, they look like our community. Maybe we can do this, too.”

I visited the article and the headline read, "Whatever community you are in, you are bound to find something parallel and worth digging into." I looked through the site and found a page with an interactive map, with six categories exploring different elements of learner-centered education. 

This group was formed in 2018.  It models what I've been trying to do since forming the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago in 1993.  Look at the mission statement shown on our home page.

The mission of the Tutor/Mentor Institute (T/MI) is to gather and organize all that is known about successful non-school tutoring/mentoring programs and apply that knowledge to expand the availability and enhance the effectiveness of these services to children throughout the Chicago region. 


Then, look at the STRATEGY page. 

Since 1993 the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC), which I now lead through the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC, has been collecting and sharing information in an extensive web library that went on line in 1998. It's goal has been to provide information anyone starting or operating a non-school, youth tutor, mentor and learning program could use to begin a program and/or constantly improve an existing program.

I created the presentation shown below about 10 years ago to explain the role of this library in stimulating innovation and constant improvement across the entire ecosystem of organizations working with youth. 

Using Ideas to Stimulate Co... by Daniel F. Bassill

Below is a concept map showing the entire web library. Visit this blog article and find links to each sub section. While some of what I share comes from my own experiences of leading a youth tutor/mentor program for 36 years, most points to the ideas and experiences of others. 

Click on any of the featured nodes and you'll open another map, focusing on that area. Open nodes on those maps and you'll go to a section of the web library with relevant links.

This part of the library includes the list of Chicago area non-school volunteer-based tutor, mentor and learning programs that has been the central focus of the library.  It also contains links to other resources that anyone can use to learn what others are doing and find ways to improve their own programs.

I plotted this information on a map based program locator between 2004 and 2010, but that is now only an archive.  

Since 2016 I've been sharing my list on this map, which you can zoom into for more neighborhood level detail.  See it in this article

There are numerous challenges to what I've been trying to do.  Obviously, the first is to find the money each year to collect the program information and web site library links, then to maintain a website and interactive map to share the information.  While I succeeded for nearly 20 years I've not been able to do as much since 2011.  I'm trying to find an institution who will take ownership and rebuild the web platform to be of equal quality to those like  the "Education Reimagined" site.

However, that's not the only challenge.  On the STRATEGY page that I pointed to above I showed a concept map visualizing four concurrent strategies that I've followed since 1993.  Below is the same map, but with each of the four categories I show some of the challenges that need to be addressed

One of the major challenges, not shown on this map, is generating a flow of talent and dollars to EVERY youth program within a geographic area like Chicago, so each can do more to tell what they do,  how they do it, and how others can help them,  on their own web sites.  Along with this would be money for staff, and motivation for them to be constantly looking at other web sites to compare what they do, with what others do.  

A further challenge is to motivate donors to be looking at the same information, in the same conversations, so that when a program says "we should be doing this" a donor says "I'll provide the money."  Wouldn't t hat be great!

The library  has little value if too few people are using it.

My last blog post, on April 1, was focused on information collection and sharing and I highlighted a few groups who were collecting education information, seeking to 'reimagine learning'.  I think there would be a value for someone to be aggregating links to all of these groups, so they could be learning from each other, attracting more attention, and building the public will needed to make solutions available in every place needed, especially the high poverty areas of the USA and the world.

The concept map below shows an example of what's possible.  These are Chicago based intermediary organizations that focus on the well-being of youth.  They share the same geography, but few share links to each other on their websites, or host a concept map similar to this.

I find the same in some of the education innovation groups I follow.  More should follow the advice of  Education Reimagined:

“Hey, they look like our community. Maybe we can do this, too.”

However, someone needs to be aggregating and sharing this information.  Who is doing this?  

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Building Support for Digital Access

This photo shows teens and volunteers using computers during one of the tutor/mentor sessions offered at the Cabrini Connections location in Chicago. I led that program from its founding in 1993 until 2011.  With the help of volunteers we opened a computer lab in the late 1990s.  

Below is a photo from the mid 1980s, showing Don Bohling and Ken Cartossa, two volunteers at the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program, who created and led the computer lab at their location in Chicago.  We did not have Internet then, but we were teaching kids to use computers for learning.

In both examples we were creating digital access for kids who lived in a high poverty neighborhood and did not have this access at home.  We were able to do this because we were a "site-based" tutor/mentor program where youth and volunteers came to our space on a weekly basis (some came  more often). 

And because we were able to recruit workplace volunteers who used computers in their daily jobs and were willing to share their experiences with kids in our programs.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar focused on digital access and the digital divide, titled, "Turning America’s Digital Divide into Digital Dividends: Ideas for the Biden-Harris Administration". I've posted a few Tweets showing some of the maps and graphics included.

here's one
here's another Below you can see a concept map that I started a few years ago to share links to information I was aggregating about the Digital Divide.

Last year I connected with a network of educators brought together through an initiative at Arizona State University, called  This group is also focusing on the digital divide, broadband access and digital learning. The Tweet below points to a webinar they hosted on March 18.

Miguel Gamiño Jr. ( @MiguelGamino ), EVP Enterprise Partnerships & Head of Global Cities at Mastercard, was the final speaker at the Turning America’s Digital Divide into Digital Dividends: Ideas for the Biden-Harris Administration webinar. He encouraged participants to share these ideas widely so more people get informed, then involved in bringing solutions to reality.  I posted the Tweet below to amplify that message. Then, I follow this by posting a couple of Tweets drawing from my efforts to encourage universities to mobilize student/alumni talent to help build public awareness and involvement in efforts that help youth from birth to work. Creating digital access and digital learning habits is an essential part of such a strategy. There are many programs at high schools, colleges and in non profits that encourage students to do research on issues and then present their findings. I'm actually going to attend the Spring 2021 Student Project Exposition for the University of Michigan School of Information later this week. Students will present posters, presentations, or video pitches to share their projects from course and co-curricular experiences, internships, and research.   

What I usually find missing is a "call to action".  

Imagine if you could find a map of the country, where icons represented schools (with links to web pages) where students were blogging about the various Digital Divide issues that are being shared by different groups, each with a call to action that mobilizes voters, policy makers, business leaders and activists.

At the same time as the Tufts webinar was providing information about the Digital Divide, the ShapingEDU group was hosting a webinar focused on telling the stories. I show that in this Tweet:
These ideas are related. Good information needs to be shared widely through on-going stories.

So let's get more people looking at this information. Let's find a few companies who will sponsor student research and blogging about the Digital Divide. This "map the system" site is an example of what's possible.  I include a link to that site on a wiki page where I encourage student research and communication projects.  

Step 2 pf the four-part strategy of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, started in 1993, focuses on building on-going public awareness of specific issues.  Skim through these articles to see how important this is. 

One strategy to increase the number of people who care, and support student digital learning, is to help site-based, non-school, tutor, mentor and learning programs grow in more of the high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago, and to point to them with stories of the digital divide, so they can attract volunteers and donors.

If we don't find ways to dramatically increase the number who understand, empathize, then act, too little will change for people living on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.

I hope you'll share this. Thanks for reading.

I'm on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram (see links here). Let's connect. 

If you appreciate what I'm writing about, please help fund my work.