III. Implementation (cont'd.)

E. Math-Science Tutor/Mentoring Programs

The Tutor/Mentoring Program is the primary means by which CUOS directly supports individual K–12 students in their math and science learning. We proceed from the assumption that long-term tutor relationships with young people can fill their needs both for more individualized teaching and for more reliable adult contact. Therefore, we now refer to volunteers as mentors, rather than as tutors, since the latter term implies drop-in services with no continuing relationship. Learning problems can be rooted not just in the difficulty of the material, but also in the knowledge, skill, and/or self-confidence deficits of the learner. None of the latter three deficits can be easily addressed by a teacher with a full class of mixed-ability students.

History and Demographics

When the program began in fall 1995, CUOS Director Gérard Mourou led by example by tutoring at a Saturday Academy. After CUOS staff and students shared that they would like to tutor but did not have time to travel to and from a community or school site, Professor Mourou started an afternoon tutorial at CUOS and authorized staff release time for tutoring activities.

In 1995–96, about 70 tutors (mostly College of Engineering graduate and undergraduate students) served more than 100 young people at 10 sites (but primarily at CUOS). In 1996–97, 121 tutors (including representatives of two colleges and six schools at the university) helped over 130 students at three schools, six community sites, and several campus sites. During fall 1997, 132 mentors from two colleges and seven schools at UM worked with more than 150 students, largely at two schools and two community centers. The majority of this year's mentors have been from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts—and quite a few were freshmen.

As our recruiting efforts have become more campus-wide, the proportions of mentors who are male and from the College of Engineering have dropped, while the percentage of undergraduates has risen. We have had no faculty mentors since the first year, and few staff members. The lack of faculty representation may not be a bad thing, as we—and they—are not sure this is the best use of their time. They are already short of time for mentoring the graduate and undergraduate students who are more their responsibility. Experience has taught us that learning community involvement works best when it consists of people finding their natural roles and acting where their hearts are. We have yet to find this "natural role" for faculty—but are still working on it!

Lessons Learned

In our third year now of organizing such programs, we finally feel that we have a handle on how it should be done! Organization of a program involving hundreds of mentors and mentees is very labor-intensive, particularly at the beginning of the school year and again, to a lesser extent, at the start of a new semester in January. We definitely learned to have better records, kept by several people, since the job was too much for one person with other duties. Redesigned databases reside on a computer that is left on in a restricted-access folder that can be shared by several students and staff. Making our records "paperless" as soon as possible has been an enormous time-saver. Whereas we were unable to match some 88 additional volunteers in 1996–97, only eight went unmatched in fall 1997.

Another boost to efficiency came from soliciting mentors for a sharply curtailed, defined number of times and places. We focused on technical high school subjects at one Ann Arbor High School and all elementary subjects at one community center and one school in Ypsilanti—with transportation arranged for both. Some informal tutoring was also done by science club leaders at an Ann Arbor community center after their hands-on science projects were done. While the numbers of students served are not tremendously higher this year, the long-term nature of the commitment is almost universal now. Some of the schools and community centers we had tried to work with before were simply not organized enough to support such a program and tutors tended to drop out as their students stopped showing up. Now, we only go where people from sites can seriously get behind us and have ownership for the program.

This year, we even limited high school mentoring to those students whose teachers would promise in advance to cooperate with mentors—as the teachers of 120 Pioneer High School students did. Ninety of these students met their mentors in classrooms there just after school, so that teachers were often available to consult with. Mentors came to know the school, demanded to see course syllabi and textbooks, attended parent-teacher conferences, and contacted the teachers for student updates on a regular basis. They challenged teachers on the methods that had not worked with their tutees, leading to alternative assessment methods, revised curricula, and a rethinking of the attitude once common at this school that "if you can't keep up, you don't belong in my class." Mentors demonstrated that students that the traditional system had given up on were perfectly capable of performing with more individualized or different types of instruction. In this way, we have found that a program we had thought would benefit only individual participants is, in fact, producing systemic change at this one school.

Feedback from Participants

Coordinators. Site coordinators reported lack of space, lack of communication, and lack of faithful, reliable mentors as the most common problems with their mentoring programs. Mentors were particularly frustrated at sites where they had to spend much of their time in crowd control and where they were not notified when children would be absent or on field trips. These sites were invariably ones with no paid staff. In most such cases, sites seemed to have trouble being organized well enough to take advantage of the volunteers we could provide; these are the sites we pulled out of before beginning our third year. The lack of reliable mentors at some sites appeared to be primarily a transportation problem; a combination of car-pooling and university van rental has helped a great deal with the two Ypsilanti sites we still service.

Site coordinators expressed the belief that, overall, mentors developed an excellent rapport with students—even though it took some time. At one site, it took up to six months for the students to trust and accept the mentors, which is why a long-term commitment is so important.

Mentors. Although the majority of mentors had tutored before, many reported that they were "unsure" or "afraid" of being inadequate to the task. With a few, this was a continuing problem. In response, we changed our forms to separate, for example, first- and second-year algebra, so that mentors did not feel out of their comfort zone. At least one mentor called in a pre-med student friend to help him with the trickier aspects of AP biology—a sure sign that this mentor felt both responsible to his tutee and empowered to do what it took to serve him.

Most considered their experiences positive; when they did not, it was almost always because the students they worked with did not meet with them reliably:

It hasn't gone well. The student wasn't concerned with his grade in the course once he had been accepted to State. He also "had things to do" after school and asked me to meet him on Sunday nights at his house. I refused.
I would show up at our appointed times and she would not show or call. I have come to the conclusion she doesn't have much interest in getting help.

This may be because students, especially high school students, were pressured into tutoring by parents and were not true volunteers. One mentor noted that he and his student "did not work out because of his lack of interest and needs." Another was very disappointed with his first mentoring experience because his student "missed a session without calling, was often rude or not responsive." We have advised mentors to be less patient about this: if, after being confronted about it, the mentees do not become more responsible, we drop them and match the mentor with someone else. It is vital that mentors, too, feel they are benefiting from the relationship. Most often, they did:

I love it a lot. I feel like I'm making a difference.
Thanks so much for this great opportunity!!
My mentoring experience was great. The student that I tutored seemed really motivated to work and learn and asked a lot of questions (I like that). I also felt like I was able to do some kind of volunteer/community service work that I knew was directly affecting someone else for the better.
It is not a large time commitment and yet you get a lot out of the little time you put in. Thanks for the opportunity.
It is nice to tutor the same person each week and develop a relationship with them. That way it is easier to teach them in a way that is most effective for them. It is very fulfilling.

Overall, mentors felt they helped students understand their class work, although it seemed that as much time was spent on time management, organization tricks, strategies for talking with the teacher, and study skills as on content. Mentors reported that going through problems, discussing areas for improvement and just spending extra time on the subjects undoubtedly helps students. Many saw an improvement in concentration and better problem-solving skills and felt that students were approaching problems in a more "disciplined and efficient" manner. Others were just pleased to see the students' attitude towards the subject change, since much low achievement appears rooted in the students' conviction that they are not capable of doing the work. Several mentors noted that their biggest contributions were in the personal organization and confidence- building arenas.

A few mentors have been profoundly affected by the experience. Every year, at least one decides to switch from a pre-med or engineering major to secondary education. Having seen the great problems young people are having with technical subjects—and realizing their own ability to make a difference—they opt to become high school science or math teachers.

K-12 Students. Seventy-five percent of the students had been in a previous tutoring experience; half stated that the Coalition Mentor Program was their first positive experience. One student stated, as did his parent, that this was his "third time around," and he had been afraid of striking out a third time. Instead, he gained a "renewed faith" in programs that "propose to help kids."

Fifty percent of the students reported that this was a very positive, rewarding experience; that they had gained a better "appreciation for math," and that their test-taking and study skills had improved tremendously. Of those students who had a negative experience, 25% felt that they "didn't need tutoring—it was [my] parent's and/or teacher's idea," and 25% felt that the mentor "didn't know any more than [I] did."

For the most part, students regarded the mentors as helpful in some way—if not academically, then socially. Mentors made students responsible for their own learning: all students reported that mentors were very disappointed and upset when they were unprepared. All students reported that their mentors were interested in their learning and concerned about them in general. When asked if their understanding of class work had improved, 50% stated that they were now able to keep up in class; 25% said that their class work had improved significantly, and 25% responded there was little to no change in classroom performance. As to grades, 75% reported improvement—25% tremendous and 50% only slight; the other 25% found no change.

Parents. Parents expressed gratitude, and relief, that their students were receiving individualized attention. However, class work, test scores and final grades results were mixed. Fifty percent of parents interviewed saw a "tremendous" increase in their child's test and classroom performance; 25% saw a moderate difference; and, 25% saw no change—in fact, they felt the student was "wasting everyone's time."

Parents were impressed with the "level of maturity" displayed by mentors, as well as the "willingness to go above and beyond" in their efforts to help students. With regard to whether mentor was helpful, 100% of responses were positive, even though one parent reported that her student benefited on a personal, rather than academic, level. Mentors were referred to as accommodating: students were free to call for extra help, especially before a test or exam. Lack of communication appeared not to be an issue. All parents felt that mentors were interested in their children's learning.

Mentor Site Adoptions

In playing our matchmaking role, we have also tried to bring together community sites and university service-oriented organizations. The theory is that, even as individuals come and go, the organization can keep a long-term commitment to a site. Our first such pairing was that of the university's chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) with Ypsilanti's Chapelle Elementary School. During 1996–97, eight NSBE members tutored one or two third and fifth graders in math and science, two afternoons per week. They helped with homework, drilled students on math and science concepts, and addressed areas needing the most support. Students attended regularly, and were "very willing participants." The program leader and NSBE president reported that children need "an immense amount of support and encouragement. We forget that they need motivation and inspiration."

Several incidences of miscommunication helped us change this program for the better, including the addition of orientation sessions run by the building principal before mentors met with students in fall 1997. Transportation arrangements were made, increasing mentor reliability, and mentor numbers were augmented with volunteers recruited campus-wide. This program has grown tremendously in size and effectiveness in a year's time, but still has a way to go. Our latest evaluation made it clear that remaining problems can be solved by focusing even more on long-term relationships: these children need true mentors, not do-gooder dabblers.

Another site adoption match was made between the university's Pre-Med Club and Ypsilanti's Community Church of God Opportunity Center, where club members, with CUOS help, run a weekly elementary science club. A group of CUOS grad students and staff run a biweekly secondary science club there. And a group of friends who wanted to do a science club was matched, again with CUOS staff coordination, with Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor.

1998 Progress Report
I. Executive Summary
II. Introduction
  A. The Problem
  B. The Solution
III. Program Implementation
  A. Organization and Management
  B. Systemic Initiatives to Build School-Centered Learning Communities
  C. Coalition Web Site
  D. Reach Out! Student Organization
  E. Math-Science Tutor/Mentoring Programs
  F. Science Outreach Programs
  G. Coalition Building and Stakeholder Development
IV. Conclusion
Appendix A: Coalition Partners List
Appendix B: Web-Site Home Page

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