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Tutor program helps students improve skills, graduate H.S.

In 1990, several Austin ministers and community leaders were appalled that most of the city’s public school students failed to graduate from high school.

Their response: a tutoring program for neighborhood youth.

Today, the Cluster Tutoring program helps more than 100 students with classwork, including some youngsters like Kaleb Seabrook, who have watched their grades improve from below average to A’s and B’s.

In the nonprofit program, youngsters are matched with tutors who meet at least weekly at area churches. The program aims to not only help students eventually graduate from high school but also improve their reading skills.

Tutors range from youth in middle school to adults older than age 80.

David Wilson, 65, said he joined the program nine years ago after he made a deal with God that if he got accepted into graduate school at the University of Illinois he would volunteer as a mentor with a nonprofit group. He had just been downsized from a job.

“You’re not supposed to make deals with God, but I said if I could be accepted into graduate school then I would do tutoring. . . I kept my end of the bargain and signed up.”

Wilson, now a bus service planner for the Chicago Transit Authority, tutors Kaleb, who is a seventh grade student at Disney II Magnet School.

When Wilson started tutoring Kaleb seven years ago, the youngster’s grades were below average. Now, the 13-year-old Austin resident is on the honor roll.

“I think I have become a better reader and writer,” Kaleb said. “I’ve learned about a lot of different subjects, and I’ve matured.”

He said he enjoys working with Wilson because of the sports examples that Wilson uses to teach subjects.

But Wilson says Kaleb is not the only one learning from their sessions. “When Kaleb is presented with things that I need to help him with, I realize that I don’t remember that stuff and I get my memory and understanding refreshed as well,” Wilson said.

“One day, Kaleb was learning about isotopes and I don’t know the difference between isotopes and icicles,” Wilson recalled, “So, he explained it to me and we both won because I got to learn about it again and he had the benefit of explaining it and reinforcing it in his own mind.”

There is a waiting list of students wanting a tutor in the program. Anyone interested in volunteering or receiving help with school work can email clustertutoring@clustertutoring.org.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.
Julie Woon, the author of the story, is a student at Northwestern University.