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A progressive approach to diversity in tutoring

A study shows students who use one-on-one or small group tutoring have seen improvement in grades at school, according to Philip Oreopoulos, an economist at University of Toronto Mississauga.

According to Oreopoulos’ research, students who tutored in math or English did 80 per cent better than most of their classmates.

“I worked with a lot of kids who had a difficult time reading and not knowing how to add, and it was really heartbreaking working with kids who didn’t have basic foundational skills,” said Tara Johnson, founder of The Progressive Centre in Durham Region. “I wanted to open up a learning centre because I felt that a lot of students fall through the cracks, especially for those who have learning disabilities.”

Johnson is a black educator who worked in education for more than five years after graduating from teacher’s college in 2005. She worked with children in her volunteer days, before becoming a substitute teacher for the Durham District School Board. Johnson also taught in Bermuda for three years.

The Progressive Centre launched in 2014, providing many programs including online and in-home tutoring. They also provide an executive functioning program to help students deal with self-regulation, handle emotions and to be organized.

“I feel like most of these skills aren’t taught in school and a lot of kids can benefit from them.”

The centre caters to students with different backgrounds in Durham and GTA.

Johnson ensures her tutors are also diverse. She recalls only having one black teacher in one semester of high school.

“I think self-representation is important, you’re looking for role models and whatnot,” Johnson explains. “Durham has changed, it’s become diverse and I think it’s really important that educators reflect the diversity of the population.”

The tutors assist students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and the centre is working at being able to serve post-secondary students. Most of the students are from high school, particularly those starting out or getting ready to head to college or university.

Prior to assigning a tutor, Johnson likes to sit down with the students and ask about their goals, how they’re doing in school, learn about strengths and weaknesses and then develop a plan to implement with the tutors.

“I really like the team that I have this year and they’ve been doing a really good job with the kids they’re working with so far,” said Johnson. “I’ve just been getting positive reviews from the families they’re working with.”

Michelle Butcher is a parent who has used The Progressive Centre’s services. Her daughter needed to improve her grades for chemistry and biology as university prerequisites.

“Before reaching out to Tara, her grade average was 60 per cent and in her finals, she ended with an 83… which was huge because [my daughter] didn’t think she would pass the course,” said Butcher.

Butcher was impressed and recommended The Progressive Centre to other parents who needed tutoring for their children.

“Anytime someone is looking for a tutor, I always recommend her… she’s good at selecting the tutors that you need,” explained Butcher.

During the pandemic, The Progressive Centre lost a few students as sessions were available online. Parents thought their child would be distracted with their phones when learning virtually, but that hasn’t been the case for any of the students, according to Johnson.

“The kids enjoyed the lessons; I find that sometimes you really have to be creative and my tutors are becoming really creative at keeping the kids engaged during their sessions.”

Since school came back, it’s been busy in-home and online. If parents request in-home service, tutors come to the home with PPE and hand sanitizer.

“One of the biggest things that we notice in tutoring is the self-confidence piece.”

When it comes to tutoring, pairing a student with a tutor who is really passionate about the subject really helps bring that out, explains Johnson. Tutors must have experience with kids and either need to be a certified teacher or graduate from a university program.

“It does something to my spirit when I can help a child achieve some kind of success or their attitude,” said Johnson.