In the five years that she’s worked with the University of Chicago’s Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP), Bronzeville principal Mellodie Brown says that in addition to the increased academic performance and attendance boost she’s seen, NSP has helped her students open up.
“It's difficult for students to be vulnerable and share their experience as far as learning or how they’re feeling about school if they don’t trust the adult they are working with,” Brown says. “I think building a trusting relationship with an additional adult [like the NSP tutors] allows them to be more open and just say, ‘you know what, I don’t understand that, can you explain it to me or show me how to do it?’”
One of the University’s longest-standing community outreach programs, NSP provides direct education and enrichment to pre-K to 12th grade students in their local schools and communities, connecting University students with local schools and community sites as tutors, teaching assistants, or other support.
Brown, who leads Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School and won this year’s Sara Spurlark Excellence in Education Award from NSP, has long looked to the UChicago undergraduate and graduate students who work with her elementary schoolers to provide essential small group support. That added attention has been particularly helpful with pandemic-disrupted learning and with more reserved students who might not feel comfortable participating or asking questions in larger classroom settings, she says.
“[The tutors are] passionate about helping the students in our school community and they’re willing to assist wherever, whether it’s in the classroom or helping out in the main office or a service project,” Brown says. “It’s just a tremendous help for us and our school.”
Getting to know college students has also given the elementary and middle school students a chance to consider college if they hadn’t before and ask questions about what it takes to get there.
“We so appreciate our partners like Dr. Brown who welcome UChicago students from all different backgrounds and bringing all different skillsets into their school communities,” NSP Director Brandi Snodgrass says. “Over time, our students learn a lot about themselves, grow in incredible ways, and become a part of the school’s beautiful fabric—all while supporting the younger students and making a real impact.”
Each fall, Brown meets with incoming NSP tutors to ensure tutor skillsets are best matched with her students’ needs. This year, opportunities for that sort of personalized support expanded for a group of Brown’s students who helped pilot a new NSP math initiative. Second graders at Beethoven, along with four other South Side schools, worked with UChicago Education and Society Professor Susan Levine and NSP tutors on the new Math Match Tutoring Program that aims to measure the impact of intensive one-on-on math tutoring.
Partnering with companies and local institutions like the University, Brown says, gives the Beethoven school community access to valuable free resources and avenues for growth.
The right partnerships, Brown says, can be a true game-changer.