NPP implements program changes amid student criticism

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The Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP)—an on-campus organization that hires Occidental students to support youth in at-risk schools—is taking steps to address concerns of inefficiency raised by tutors working in the program.

NPP is an umbrella organization that encompasses Title 1 and GEAR UP 4 LA, federally funded programs that provide tutoring and mentoring services to underrepresented schools in the Los Angeles area. Additionally, GEAR UP 4 LA organizes days in which elementary and middle school students shadow Occidental students for a glimpse into college life.

However, some students who worked for the program believe NPP is not as effective as it could be, in part due to inadequate training and lack of support from teachers in the classroom. They said that the program did not always train them for the subjects that they were tutoring and that teachers often did not have any use for them at all.

Alexis Villalobos (senior), a former tutor with NPP, said he was trained as a math and English tutor but placed in history and general education classes on his first shift. Villalobos said that the teachers were unsure about what his role as a tutor entailed when he was in the classroom and told him to sit in the back and encourage the students to do their work.

Another student, who chose to remain anonymous, echoed this sentiment.

“The teachers almost seemed reluctant to have us in the room, and almost confused that we were there,” the student said. “A lot of the time I ended up sitting on the side of the room and watching the teacher teach.”

Both tutors said they continued with the program because of the personal connections they built with the students, but eventually stopped tutoring when they felt they were not making an impact. Additionally, both voiced an overall feeling of distance from the NPP organization itself. The anonymous student was uncomfortable with their interactions with those in the main office, describing the communication between NPP staff members and the tutors—almost always via email—as hostile.

Staff at the NPP office said that it is the job of the onsite staff, not NPP administrators, to situate the Occidental students in classrooms and communicate any issues that arise.

“It basically all falls on the program assistant and the coordinators to try to properly place the tutors, but sometimes it’s really hard moving them around or finding them a classroom where they are appropriately utilized,” Senior Program Assistant Jeanette Diaz said.

Casey Weld (junior) said that he had no problems cooperating with teachers and that he felt NPP supported its employees. During the year that he worked for NPP, he said that he grew involved in the lives of the students and that his experience with those working in the NPP office was wholly positive.

Aaron Vogel (senior) also believes that his time with NPP has been well spent. He tutored in several schools his first three years at Occidental and is now the program’s senior intern and recruitment manager. Vogel feels that his experience with NPP has been one of his most fulfilling experiences at Occidental and believes he was able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the students he tutored.

“It was really rewarding to see the progress [the students] would make,” Vogel said. “Building a relationship with them and then seeing their improvement really hooked me and fueled my passion to keep working with them.”

Other student tutors who currently work for the program, such as Laura Bedalov (sophomore) and another anonymous tutor—both of whom work at the same school—said they were confused when they were told to do office work instead of tutoring for some of their hours. They explained that at no point during the hiring process were they told that part of their job would include filing papers and other tasks not related to working with students in the classroom.

According to NPP Director Jesus Maldonado ’00, the program transitioned its employees from a mentoring program at the school, determined to be ineffective, to the administrative work in order to maintain the students’ work schedules. Rather than leave the newly hired tutors without shifts, NPP decided to have them do other work that the school needed for the remainder of the semester.

“Sometimes the solution is ‘This isn’t working, let’s close it,’ and again we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to affect people’s financial aid status or their need to work, but we try to respond as much as we can,” Maldonado said.

Ryan Storey, a program assistant at Eagle Rock High School, also began to address problems of tutor placement at the school starting this semester.

He said that previously they did not have the opportunity to survey the teachers before the school year to figure out who wanted tutors because of NPP personnel turnover, but this semester they successfully matched up teachers with Occidental students appropriately trained for the subject.

“It was trial and error and [issues with placement] was certainly a common trend,Storey said. “But now, it’s for maybe one class and we were able to change that tutor within a week. It has developed as every single week has gone on.”

He said that these issues with the program were largely due to efforts by NPP to expand their presence on campus while acclimating to the new administration in the school. To do this, the program added options for students to be tutored during lunch hours and after school, which Storey said took time to work out.

“We’re an investment, to be fair. And we want to make it worthwhile for the school [for tutors to be there],” he said.

He added that the data they collected via tutor-submitted journals and surveys demonstrates noticeable academic improvement in students that are being tutored this semester.

As for Villalobos, he believed that he did not have a completely negative experience, as it opened his eyes to the less-than-ideal environment in these schools. Still, he said that he wanted to see the grant money and tutors used more efficiently.

“You have a massive resource of really intelligent students going into these schools,” Villalobos said. “Do something effective and don’t just have them sitting there.”