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Fall 2014

Tutor Profile: Courtney Souvenir

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Courtney Souvenir didn’t wait for Innovations for Learning to recruit him. A habitual volunteer, Courtney was searching on Google for an opportunity to tutor children.

And up came IFL’s TutorMate program.

Voila!

He rounded up about 10 members of the Sigma Sigma Sigma (TriSigma) Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and they plunged in.

Last school year, his group – consisting of fellow TriSigma Chapter members Corky Conyers, Ernesto Ramos, Jermaine Mendez, Rodney Redmond, Tony Johnson, Warren Brooks, and Wesley Webb – made weekly phone calls to first-graders at Simon Elementary School in Washington, D.C. As volunteers with IFL’s TutorMate program, these adults each took a sliver of their work week to help kids learn how to read.

The experience “was phenomenal,” says Courtney, who ended up with two students after one of the other tutors had to drop out. Both children showed great gains in reading, he says. And his first student, a boy, made social gains as well.

“He was very shy initially,” Courtney recalls. “And about a third of the way through, he became outspoken. He began suggesting what he wanted to read. By the end, we were reading two books [in a single session] and playing games — and he was trash talking!

“Even his teacher was very surprised, because he didn’t talk at all.”

A 43-year-old father of three who works for a telecommunications company in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, Courtney often looks for ways to help young people. Even as a college student, he held a job as an education director at the local Boys and Girls Club.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, he went to school at Utica College of Syracuse University in upstate New York. “Education,” he says, “is the great equalizer. Whatever socio-economic background you come from, education can level the playing field.”

That’s a belief taken seriously by the predominately African-American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma, whose mission statement calls for “brotherhood, scholarship and service.” Courtney is Director of Education for Sigma Sigma Sigma Chapter, a 175-member alumni chapter in Montgomery County, Md.

“There’s dozens of programs we do, including raising scholarship money, giving out backpacks and school supplies, and conducting essay contests,” Courtney says. They also strive to highlight achievements and encourage career advancement of African American male teachers in the community.

Courtney takes an active role in all of it. He also finds time to coach youth soccer.

“Raising literacy rates and helping minority students stay in school, ultimately to graduate and lead productive professional lives — these are Phi Beta Sigma priorities,” he says. “We take a multi-stage approach to tackling a systemic issue.”

TutorMate “was a perfect fit for us,” Courtney says. In the coming year, he hopes to expand his chapter’s participation to two or more classrooms. More ambitiously, he would like the fraternity’s national organization, 150,000 members strong, to consider embracing TutorMate nationwide.

What amazed him was “how simple it is and how little time it requires,” he says. “Thirty minutes a week. For some of us, that’s a coffee break. And on the flip side, look at the potential and how it pays off: In the one kid, I could see a difference in just a few months.”

It so happens that education is a passion of Courtney’s. He knows it’s not everyone’s. But he believes that everyone can find a way to pitch in.

“There’s always something you can do,” he says. “Whether it’s through your church, your synagogue, your school, the Salvation Army, there’s always somebody who needs help. And if you’re in a position to help, there’s always a lot you can do.”

Innovations Update

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We are excited to have added 4 new school districts for the 2014-15 school year, which brings our program to 15 major districts around the country. In the Houston Independent School District, we will be serving 16 schools with both TeacherMate and TutorMate.

Houston has incorporated TutorMate into Read Houston Read, the district’s major new initiative to tutor first grade students. Through this initiative, we will be recruiting volunteers not just from corporations, but from the entire Houston community. This is a first for IFL’s TutorMate program.

We have two new districts in Arizona: Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson and Roosevelt School District in Phoenix, where we are launching TutorMate in collaboration with Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun United Way. In Reynoldsburg, Ohio, we will be serving all elementary schools with both TeacherMate and TutorMate.

Earlier this year we expanded our software development team and brought all software development “in house.” Our team has rewritten the TutorMate platform from the ground up, making it far more reliable and scalable as well as more engaging for both tutors and students.

The TutorMate platform now contains activities that enable tutors to help students with the same words and word parts that the teacher is working on with the student that week. Our software team’s next task is the transformation of our TeacherMate platform into a mostly online interface that will work with all computers and tablets. We will also be developing activities for second and third grade students for the first time.

We look forward to an exciting year ahead with our many returning teachers around the country as well as our new teachers and staff.