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Tutors help steer students to success

When Gary Comer College Prep senior Alex Scott first met Karen Cronin four years ago, Scott was an eighth-grader who struggled in school.

Cronin, a volunteer tutor, helped Scott with homework and advised her on personal problems to help her concentrate on classwork.

Now, Scott, 18, is making plans for college.

“She never spoke down to me,” Scott recalled. “[I needed to] overcome mostly emotional issues because if I can’t get it off my chest, I can’t get anything done.”

Cronin is a volunteer with Chicago Lights, which provides a variety of outreach programs to help low-income residents as well as youth.

Chicago Lights, affiliated with the Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago, helps youths with a variety of programs ranging from job internships to tutoring.

In the tutoring program, students get free meals and weekly help with schoolwork.

“We teach our tutors that the number one thing is to listen to our students, and meet them where they’re at,” Chicago Lights director Alex Cornwell said. “We encourage them to get to know the student before creating ideas of what the student needs or wants.”

As a result of learning a lot about the youngsters, some tutors and youngsters have worked together for years.

Marc Carmona, a seventh-grader at Santa Lucia School, has been with his tutor since first grade.

“I’ve grown closer with my tutor. He’s like my best friend now,” he said.

There are about 400 students in the tutoring program from 33 ZIP codes; mostly from Near North, West and South Side neighborhoods.

The organization is creative when it comes to trying to keep students enthusiastic about education and careers, Cornwell said. For example, the group holds a business casual fashion show to teach students what to wear to job interviews. Last year, department store Macy’s and clothing retailer H&M donated gift cards as prizes for the show.

Scott, who participated in fashion shows, said Cronin also is helping her with her future beyond high school: filling out college and scholarship applications.

The pair also find time for fun.

Last month, Cronin, an independent consultant to the Cook County Health System, spent the day with Scott and her younger brother but not on school work. They all hung out atNavy Pier.

Scott’s brother doesn’t participate in Chicago Lights, “but I like him, so I’ll take him along,” Cronin said.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

For more information on becoming a tutor, call (312) 981-3381. Anne Li, the author of this story, is a student at Northwestern University.
Students interested in being tutored can sign up through their schools or by contacting Chicago Lights through their website at http://www.chicagolights.org/contact.