Teen Center, Northstar tutoring program enters second year of making ‘good matches’

NPR program "StoryCorps" teamed up with kids from Hyattsville's Teen Center in June to create recordings that will be archived in the Library of Congress. Photo courtesy of the City of Hyattsville

(This is the second of a two-part series on the City of Hyattsville Teen Center. The first article focused on the property the city is purchasing to use as a second Teen Center site.)

By HEATHER WRIGHT — Hyattsville’s Teen Center will continue its partnership with Northstar Tutoring during the 2019-2020 school year. The partnership started last fall and provided tutoring two nights a week during the school year.

During the Aug. 5 city council meeting, the council unanimously approved the fiscal year 2020 contract with Northstar “to provide tutoring and mentorship management at a cost not to exceed $60,0000 in support of the City’s teen programming.”

Council meeting documents submitted by Community Services Director Jake Rollow noted, “Northstar Tutoring provided excellent individualized tutor/mentor matching to our Teen Center students over the past year. This contract retains their services for another year, and expands the work to include summer months, to assist students in preventing summer academic slide.”

In an interview, Rollow noted that he considered last school year a pilot year for both the Teen Center and its tutoring program because it was the first year that the Teen Center provided programming five nights a week and offered its tutoring program. He said that during the coming year, the city and Northstar will be setting strategic goals and collecting data to ensure that tutoring and other Teen Center programs are helpful and effective.

In the meantime, the city has plenty of anecdotal evidence to support continuing their partnership with Northstar for this school year, “from students walking in and saying, ‘I got my first B on a test,’ to … [seeing] grades going up,” said Rollow. “We have students who are eager to come, and they enjoy being with their tutors, and they’re actually doing homework. They’re not just goofing around.” The tutoring program, according to Rollow, has become the most popular element of the Teen Center.

Rollow described Northstar, which is a nonprofit contractor, as a good partner whose executive director, Jennifer Townsend, is “passionate … about helping these kids academically.”

“Part of what has been great about Northstar is, because they’re working on one-on-one placements, they really do take the time to feel out the kid and the tutor,” said Rollow. This means that the first name on the waitlist might not automatically get the next available tutor. “They’re going to wait until they have a tutor who they think will actually match well with [the student],” Rollow said. “That, I think, has been, really, a great part of the success … we’re getting good matches; we’re getting folks in relationships that they’re excited about.”

Townsend said Northstar interviews prospective tutors, asking them questions about their employment, their experience with kids and their preferred age range.

“We really want to find the right match. It’s about finding the right personality and background fit; it’s not just that [they] both signed up at the same time.”

Townsend and Rollow said that the tutoring program served approximately 35 students last year and, as of press time, had a wait list of 20 students. Townsend anticipates that the wait list would grow once applications started coming in for the new school year. Most students came both nights during the week, while most tutors came once a week, according to Townsend.

Approximately 45 tutors worked with Teen Center youth last school year, according to Rollow and Townsend. “We got a great group of volunteers. I was hoping we’d get more, but the people we got were really solid and committed,” said Townsend.

The match-making process seems to have worked well. Townsend said that out of about 20 kids who filled out an end-of-year survey, only one wanted to be reassigned to a new tutor for this coming school year. “They all really liked their tutors,” she said. “They all really want one-on-one help, and they all love to have people help them.”

DJ Pedro Night stopped by the Teen Center @ Magruder this past April for some quick lessons in the art of spinning. Photo courtesy of the City of Hyattsville

Chidi Nwaneri, who lives in Hyattsville, started serving as a tutor last March. “I was looking for a way to give back to my community, and I love working with the next generation,” she said. “I had a great experience last school year working with my mentee. She excelled in reading and improved her math skills. It was rewarding to see the small impact that I made in her life.”

Nwaneri plans to continue serving as a tutor and mentor this school year: “I’m excited to see my student start middle school!”

For this school year, Townsend hopes to expand the tutoring program to serve 50 students. She’d also like to expand the mentoring aspect of the program and see even more academic improvement in students enrolled in the programs. According to Townsend, they have the infrastructure, the support and funding from the city, and a wait list of kids all set to go. The need, she said, is “definitely just more volunteers — more tutors.”

Nwaneri agrees that there is a need for more tutors and expressed excitement about the program: “The students and staff are wonderful, and tutors will gain so much as they give back.”

The Teen Center tutoring program will resume Oct. 1 at Nicholas Orem Middle School (6100 Editors Park Drive).

The City of Hyattsville continues to seek volunteers for its youth tutoring program. If you are interested in applying, please contact Youth and Recreation Program Supervisor Saarah Abdul-Rauf at 301.985.5065 or srauf@hyattsville.org.

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