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.

No comments: