Walk into a Chicago Public School on the mid-South Side, and the odds are you will find a University of Chicago student. Whether helping a teacher, tutoring individual students, or fixing computers, over 300 UChicago students work in local schools through the Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“The Neighborhood Schools Program is the University’s main direct outreach to local schools and is probably one of the central points of our community engagement with schools, families, and youth,” said Shaz Rasul, the Office of Civic Engagement's Director of Community Programs. Rasul's involvement with NSP began when he taught eighth graders geometry as a UChicago undergraduate student from 1995 to 1997, and he’s run the program since 2010.
NSP’s model has evolved throughout its first 40 years, from serving a small number of Hyde Park schools in 1976 to now serving 50 programs throughout the mid-South Side; and developing partnerships like Jumpstart, (which focuses on pre-school students), and Maroon Tutor Match.
NSP is an ideal program for students seeking out involvement in education, a community service experience, or simply a job. Students perform a variety of tasks, like working with small groups the teacher thinks need extra attention, tutoring individual students, or helping with office work and technology. Students commit to working in local schools and community centers, often developing relationships with students and becoming a part of the classroom or school.
“[Y]ou start out as a helper and then you build relationships that make you a bigger part of the classroom or the school or the community. Eventually you get the opportunity to be a leader,” Rasul said.
Erica Maricich (A.B. ‘16) has worked for NSP for five years, beginning as a first year in the College and continuing her commitment through her first year of UChicago Law School. She works as an after-school tutor at Kenwood Academy.
“For me, it’s always most meaningful when students come back after I help them on an assignment and say thank you,” she said. “It’s really special that I was able to help them, that I wasn’t just talking at them for the 30 minutes we were together, but it actually made a difference.”
NSP has recently begun to explore new partnerships to positively impact schools. Rasul explained that society typically holds high expectations for schools, often without distributing the resources necessary to achieve them.
“The only away to achieve those aims is to create really different partnerships that think of the school as being embedded in the community in a very different way and thinking about the community having access to the school is a very different way,” he said.
One way is through Maroon Tutor Match, a one-on-one tutoring program that officially launched last year, developed by third-year Akanksha Shah and sponsored by NSP. Maroon Tutor Match recruits College students to provide low-cost tutoring to local students, offering scholarships in order to make tutoring accessible. In its first year, the program has over 110 University tutors and serves 200 students.
“Once I hit the right formula it exploded, a lot of what I did with the NSP was trial and error,” Shah said. “I think the biggest thing is that [NSP] had existing connections with the schools and they were willing to let me use them.”
Looking forward, Rasul hopes to continue expanding in order to place more UChicago students in local schools.
“I think this is one of the most important things the University does,” Rasul said. “It’s a commitment to working in partnership with communities on the things that the communities care the most about, which is their children’s future.”