What inspires a teenager to spend one evening a week helping a younger student learn? The seven teens volunteering at Cluster Tutoring all arrived by different paths, but they all agree on one thing: They love helping their students with their studies. And they’re all having fun in the process.
Some have family connections. Some were recruited by friends. One was a Cluster student who turned into a tutor. But whatever brought them to Cluster in the first place, they all say treasure their interactions with their students. And their students seem to feel the same way about them.
Elise is a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School. She and her mother, Julie, both started tutoring this year. Elise tutors 7-year-old Skylar, a 2nd grader.
“This has been a lot of fun,” she said of her tutoring experience. “I really enjoy watching the growth in Skylar’s reading and vocabulary.” Skylar came in with a strong vocabulary already, Elise said, but they’ve been able to add many more words to her reading vocabulary. “And her reading has improved — a lot!”
Elise is enjoying tutoring so much that she said she “wouldn’t rule out” a future career as a teacher. “But it’s too early to say,” she added. “It’s just great to work with a young child.”
Anna also started tutoring alongside her mother. Anna, an OPRF sophomore, and her mother started tutoring three years ago, and they would trade weeks tutoring the same child.
Last year, Anna started tutoring a kindergartner, Brienne. Now Anna’s younger sister, Libby, an 8th grader, is part of Cluster Tutoring, and she and Anna trade weeks to tutor Brienne, now a 6-year-old 1st grader.
Joining Cluster was part of an idea of getting involved in an educational project, “and I really liked it,” Anna said. Her main focuses with Brienne are reading and math.
“She seems improved in her skills,” Anna said. “She reads really well now, so we work mostly in math.”
While Anna enjoys working with young children, she doesn’t see a future as an educator. “A lot of people say I’d be a good teacher, but that really isn’t my interest as a career. I really like math.” As of now, Anna sees a future direction studying math and going into either law enforcement or engineering.
Brienne said she loves have both Anna and Libby as tutors. “It’s fun!”
Another tutor who came from a family connection is Andrew, a senior at OPRF. He joined Cluster as a sophomore at the suggestion of his mother, Sarah. Tutors and students alike know Sarah as Cluster’s program assistant, a position she took after serving as a volunteer tutor herself.
In Andrew’s first year, he helped out as a math coach. Now he’s in his second year tutoring Demauree, a 6th grader.
As math is one of Andrew’s strengths, the two spend a lot of time working in math. “If he’s struggling with his math homework, I help him,” Andrew said. “Otherwise, we work on reading.”
“I’m enjoying it,” Andrew said. “I plan on volunteering when I’m in college and when I’m an adult. This gives me a taste of what it’s like to help others in the community.”
Andrew thinks other teens would enjoy tutoring as much as he does. “This is something I would recommend to every high school student.”
And Andrew did just that — he recommended tutoring to his friend Alyssa, another OPRF senior. She tutors A’zaria, a 6-year-old kindergartner, and the tutor-student pair are enjoying exploring new ways of learning together.
“We play educational games and we read,” Alyssa said. “I like working with younger children a lot.”
Alyssa sees a possible future career as something that involves working with younger students. “Tutoring gives me a chance to see what little kids like to do, and what it’s like for them to learn something for the first time.”
Will, an OPRF junior, came to Cluster with the thought of giving something back to his community and making a difference. Then he discovered how much he enjoyed tutoring. He tutors 9-year-old Mikhai, a 4th grader.
The pair enjoy learning together, focusing on Mikhai’s homework, but covering the range of math, spelling, reading, and geography in social studies. They work on Mikhai’s math packets, and save some time for games at the end of tutoring.
“He’s very helpful,” Mikhai said. “He shows me new ways to do math.”
“I just help him see it in a different light,” Will said.
Will said his experience helping his younger siblings steered him in tutoring Mikhai. He wants to continue volunteering and looking for more philanthropic programs as a way to give back to society.
Laila, a junior at George Westinghouse College Prep High School, arrived at tutoring through a different route: She used to be a student in the program.
Last year she switched from being a Cluster student to being a Cluster tutor, and she’s having a lot of fun with her 6-year-old student, Journee, a 1st grader.
“I enjoy getting to know the students,” Laila said. “I love teaching them something different from what they learn in school.” Laila and Journee read a lot of books and work on spelling, math, vocabulary, and whatever homework Journee has brought that evening.
“I hope more young people come to tutoring,” Laila said. “They’d be surprised at how much fun it is. More teenagers should try it out.”
As for Journee, she said she enjoys being tutored by Laila. She gives Laila a “two thumbs up” review as a tutor.
This is Sofia’s first year at Cluster, but she’s found that it gives her a chance to concentrate on one of her real loves — math.
“I’m good at it,” she said. “I like to tutor. Besides tutoring here, I tutor friends at school in math, too.”
Sofia, an OPRF sophomore, sees a future as a math teacher as a real possibility. “I do think about that,” she said. “I think it’s something I would enjoy and that I would be good at.”
Sofia’s regular student had to drop out of tutoring, but she serves as a substitute on Thursday nights, as she did during a recent night with this student, Sincere. And while she helps students with whatever homework they brought, you can bet that those students are all getting some extra math training.