Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Student Perspective: Northwestern's TOSADTW Day

Family Matters' youth had the opportunity to attend Northwestern University's Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day on Thursday, April 24th. Three students shared their reflections of the day:

From Arin Afolabi, 5th grade

We started out with a light breakfast of bagels and apple juice. There were only about 11 of us from my after school program, Family Matters in Rogers Park, but there were hundreds of kids from all over. When we got there they split us up into different groups of about 12-15 by our age so I was the only one in my group from Family Mat- ters. At first this made me nervous but it was actually pretty cool because I got to meet new kids and make some new friends.

The “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at Northwestern on April 24, 2014 was about showing kids about what you do at work,and explaining to them about how things work. Some things that we experienced were science, writing, and social networking.

My favorite parts of the day were the all you can eat lunch and being in the science lab. While in the science lab, I thought the hoods were creative. The hoods are where they kept things they did not want germs to get into, and prevented that by using the AC to keep germs flowing. I also found the machine where they tested DNA interesting.

The news article was very fun because we got to write our own news articles with our own creative ideas and put in many details and incorrect facts that in the real world we couldn't do. Overall, the day was fantastic and I would like to go again next year.

From Adun Afolabi, 3rd grade

At the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at Northwestern University, I made concrete. I learned how to hula hoop. I learned to juggle. I liked the food. I met a friend. I saw students. I am happy I got to go because it was fun and I met new people.

From Patrick Conlon, 3rd grade

Did you ever see a yellow glowing pickle? Neither had I before I went to the Science Day themed “Bring your child to work” day at Northwestern University (NU). Although the day was mostly for the kids of NU employees the Asso- ciation of Northwestern University Women (ANUW) sponsored kids from my after school program, Family Matters, in Chicago.

This was a fun day of touring parts of the NU campus and learning about science. This all day event had us in three locations around the campus.

In the first location we learned about spacial reasoning and Mobius Strips. A Mobius Strip is a skinny strip of paper that you twist 1 time and then tape together into a loop. The cool part about it is you can draw on both side without lifting up the pen! Then there are cool tricks like if you cut it a certain way down the middle then you end up with a bigger loop. If you cut down the middle again you end up with a kind of chain. This Mobius thing is supposed to be important in math and science and engineering. It makes a cool trick too.

In the second location we played with crystals, learned about microscopic cells and did that yellow glowing pickle thing that I mentioned earlier. They took a pickle and put wires into it on each end. Then they attached the wires to electricity. (Don’t try this at home!!) Guess what happened. The pickle glowed yellow and sparked in the dark. This works with pickles because pickles are packed in salt (sodium) and sodium is good for moving electricity. Don’t eat pickles in a lightning storm.

The third location was the NU Power Plant where we learned about how they keep the campus of NU run- ning. Basically the campus is like a city. It’s even bigger than some cities. We learned about how they take water from the pond then clean/filter to supply campus with water, and how they have sensors to tell if any pipes or electric places are broken. The power plant is a very loud place. We had to wear special headphones and hard hats.

We finished up with lunch in the cafeteria. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of the day. I have never seen so much food altogether in one place! There were hamburgers, pizzas, hot dogs, macaroni, rice- you name it. There were tons of desserts, too, like ice cream, pies, cake, cookies, rice crispy treats and brownies and more.

There was a raffle that was a lot of fun with lots of prizes. Although I didn’t win I really enjoyed the emotions and excitement about maybe possibly winning. One person from my after school program won so that was pretty cool.

All in all this trip was really fun. The campus is really cool and everyone was so nice. Maybe in 10 years I will be a student at Northwestern University and help give tours to kids.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

25th Annual Walk A Thon

On May 17th, Family Matters celebrated their 25th anniversary for their annual Walk A Thon.

Being new to Family Matters and hearing so many stories and traditions about the Walk A Thon, I was anxious to see what it was like.

As the Development Intern for Family Matters, I had the opportunity to help with the Walk A Thon by contacting various restaurants to donate food to the picnic. I also created information boards in order for people to learn about the after school programs. 

It was amazing to see how many people supported the Walk. From families to Alumni who participated in the after school program years ago, there were large amounts of people in red Family Matters shirts. I loved seeing the children play at the park after the Walk and seeing old friends connect.

My favorite part of the day was interacting with the Teen Girls. After the walk, we ate food and danced to music. 

Being part of the Walk-A-Thon was one of the highlights of my internship and I hope to be a part of it in future years.

     -Nya Brooks

Making Healthy Nachos

Every couple of weeks, the students at Family Matters participate in after school classes. One class that was offered was “Food to Go”.

According to Temple Hickman, one of the students from the Teen Girls Program, the purpose of “Food to Go” is to take basic foods that the students eat daily and make them healthy.

When asked why he chose to take this class, David Gray explained that after cooking one time with his father, he fell in love with cooking. 

The students from “Food to Go” decided to make nachos. As a group, they created a shopping list of healthy ingredients for the nachos. For example, instead of using concentrated cheese, the students used mozzarella cheese. For chips, instead of buying chips from the store, the students cut tortillas into small pieces and baked them. The students needed minimal assistance from the Family Matters staff; they cut the vegetables, cooked the meat, and cleaned the dishes by themselves. 

After the food was cooked, the students were able to enjoy their nachos, without having to worry about them being unhealthy.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Community Tutoring Student in the Chicago Tribune

 Today's post is by Devin Jones,  a member of FM's Evening Tutoring Program and a 6th grader at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy.  Devin had a class assignment to write a "letter to the editor" and submit it to the Chicago Tribune. Here's what Devin has to say about his letter: 

My letter was about the topic we had to write about in reading class. The topic was about food insecurity. 

What I wrote came from my ideas about health problems caused by global warming when it can rain too much or it won’t rain enough so food can’t grow and crops dry out. People start starving.

There are categories in the Chicago Tribune and my letter went online. I was excited when my teacher sent an email to my mom telling her mine would be in the Tribune. I was the only boy out of three of us chosen. 

I give special thanks to my mom and dad, and Ms.Lang my teacher.

Read Devin's letter in the Chicago Tribune here

Thursday, April 24, 2014

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