Tutor 'Learning Superheroes' With Accelerate Northfield

Accelerate Northfield

Accelerate Northfield knows any youngster can become a learning superhero. That’s because its scores of volunteer tutors have helped students in Northfield public schools take flight toward lofty academic goals since 2011.

Accelerate Northfield is a collaboration among parents, community members and organizations dedicated to improving the academic performance of local students, nearly all of them in School District 659’s three elementary schools.

Doing the heavy lifting in encouraging students to take steps toward superhero status – in other words, making strides in academic performance in reading and math – has been community volunteers. These tutors, ranging in age from college students to seniors, work with students either on a one-on-one basis or in small groups.

CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

A focal point in Accelerate Northfield’s efforts is helping closing Northfield’s achievement gap, the disparity in educational achievement among groups of students along economic, racial/ethnic or gender lines. Statistically speaking, students of color and those from economically stressed households lag behind their classmates in standardized test scores and graduation rates.

The achievement gap is an issue facing schools not only in Northfield, but in districts statewide, as well.

While working with students needing a boost in academics is an emphasis of Accelerate Northfield, it’s not the entire story of the organization’s efforts. Accelerate Northfield’s tutors also regularly work with students across the educational spectrum, including high achievers.

TUTORING LEARNING SUPERHEROES

There is one requirement that Accelerate Northfield seeks in potential volunteers: they possess a desire to help students transform into learning superheroes. Tutors are asked to work in district schools at least one hour each week, although most put in more time than that.

Following a simple registration process (online signup through Accelerate Northfield and a background check administered by Northfield Public Schools), tutors are provided with access to Accelerate Northfield’s electronic database of tutor requests from district teachers. The database, called the matching site, is categorized by teacher, school, subject and tutoring times.

When a volunteer accepts a tutoring assignment, a confirmation email is sent to the volunteer and the teacher. Many times, the teacher and volunteer connect about the assignment in a subsequent email.

On days they work with students, volunteer tutors sign in electronically in the main office of the school where they are working and are directed their classroom. They then meet with students and head to their tutoring location, whether that be a corner of a classroom or in the hallway outside a classroom.

MAKING TUTORING HISTORY IN NORTHFIELD

Accelerate Northfield -- brainchild of longtime Northfield education advocates Fritz Bogott and Rachel Matney -- was founded during the 2011-2012 school year. Relying on the partners like the Reads and Counts program at Carleton and St. Olaf colleges and from community tutors, Accelerate Northfield and its volunteers contributed more than 24,000 volunteer hours that first year. The program started with a three-prong educational philosophy: intensive one-one reading, reading support and enrichment challenge for high-achieving students.

The following year, Accelerate Northfield began focusing on tutoring students at risk of falling into the achievement gap. Its efforts got a boost from a three-year VISTA grant, which provided funding for a staff member to help administer the program.

In subsequent years, Accelerate Northfield tutors annually contributed thousands of hours of volunteer tutoring. The program also became a function of Northfield Public Schools.

Partnering with Accelerate Northfield has been Northfield Healthy Community Initiative, Carleton College, St. Olaf College and Northfield Promise.

HOW TO JOIN THE EFFORT

Community members interested in becoming an Accelerate Northfield tutor can get more information from Accelerate Northfield's website, www.acceleratenorthfield.org, or from emailing coordinator Michael Garlitz at mgarlitz@northfieldschools.org.