With Pandemic-Era Learning Losses Driving Demand, Tutoring Nonprofit Looking for Volunteers

Chicago students are still struggling to make up for COVID-era learning losses, and a local tutoring organization is trying to help students close that gap.

But with demand higher than ever before, the nearly 60­-year-old nonprofit said it needs many more volunteers to step up and work with students in need.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

“Their reading is still behind, their math is still behind, which actually also impacts their confidence,” said Tutoring Chicago’s executive director Sandy Marek. “We’re able to have customized learning experiences for them.”

Tutoring Chicago began when Montgomery Ward employees started tutoring students in Cabrini Green. Now, the organization works around the city. Marek said the number of students the organization tutors has quadrupled over the last decade, and that the pandemic has only made the need more dire.

“Unfortunately, the demand is very high,” Marek said. “What we really need is more tutors. The more tutors that we get, the more impact that we can make.”

Marek said the group’s been working with more than 1,100 students in grades one through 10, mostly from CPS, but some charter or Catholic school attendees as well. Tutoring Chicago is expecting record enrollment this year, topping previous numbers — and the nonprofit is opening a new location on the South Side, as well as expanding digital offerings.

“One-to-one tutoring is really a customized learning experience for the student, and it’s also like a mentorship,” Marek said. “Some of our tutors stay with the same student for three to five years, so they have a really good relationship with them and are able to make a bigger impact.”

Students get 90 minutes of free tutoring every week. Families who need it also get a Chromebook and tech help.

As for the tutors, they get training and a customized lesson plan. Marek said she’ll be tutoring a student herself this year, and while it felt a little daunting, the group makes it easy for people without experience to help a student.

Gil Fitzgerald, a returning tutor, said he was apprehensive, too, but that the experience was worth it.

Fitzgerald started working with a student who he said is a passionate kid and a talented artist, but who was in third grade reading at a first-grade level. They focused on sight words — words you can’t just sound out, but that you have to memorize.

“We worked really hard every single week, and that’s what it takes,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to put in your best effort. But you could see it in his confidence, and even his mom gave me a note at the end of the year saying how much of an impact we made. It felt great, and I can’t wait to do it again this year.”

Fitzgerald said the student he tutors is now reading proficiently at his grade level. Part of what drew Fitzgerald to tutoring was his own experiences in school.

“I had tutors for multiple different subjects from first grade up through high school, and it made a profound impact on me academically,” Fitzgerald said. “I know a lot of students don’t have those same types of opportunities. … Don’t underestimate the amount of impact one individual can have. You can really change the trajectory of a student’s life.”

According to a Tutoring Chicago survey, more than 90% of the teachers who work with students that go through the Tutoring Chicago program reported improvements in reading and math.

Learn more about the organization here.

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors