Parents looking to find tutoring support for their children will now have a local resource aimed to prioritize young students of color and those from low-income communities.
Tutortastic is the brainchild of Peera Serumaga, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and a River Forester, who said she wanted to provide a resource that could be more accessible for students of color and from low-income neighborhoods surrounding Oak Park.
Serumaga, 19, said they are hoping to reach students in Maywood, Melrose Park, and the Austin neighborhood.
“Those communities and neighborhoods are primarily neighborhoods that have people of color as their main demographic and a lot of the people are low-income,” Serumaga said. “We just want to make educational resources, like tutoring, available to people in these demographics and disadvantaged communities.”
The passion behind the program, which began developing in August 2022, comes from Serumaga’s own personal experience as a student of color as well as a first-generation American.
“I’ve experienced firsthand racial discrimination within my academic career and limited access to educational resources and learning accommodations,” said Serumaga, whose mother immigrated to the states from Jamaica. “All that impacted my education during my childhood.”
While Serumaga said she often felt dismissed by some teachers growing up, as she is also on the Autism spectrum and had a different learning style, the teachers that she connected to served as an inspiration for her desire to provide opportunities to other children.
“When you are dealing with students of color and students from these low-income neighborhoods growing up they might have certain doubts of where they can end up and the things they can accomplish because of their circumstances,” Serumaga said, adding she often felt that way growing up.
Serumaga said she had originally thought about providing tutoring services at a cost but soon opted for Tutortastic to be completely free to be able to reach those in marginalized communities who could benefit the most from the program.
“I realized that a lot of these services are not accessible in the way that they need to be for these families,” Serumaga said. “These families can’t afford to pay $300 a week for tutoring services but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the resources they need for their children to thrive academically.”
Tutortastic will be pairing participating students, grades K-5, with a volunteer tutor for free one-on-one tutoring.
“The one-on-one connections are very important because it allows the student to really build trust and a sense of security with the tutors,” Serumaga said. “They get familiar and that familiarity will help them open up to the tutor.”
Sofia Contreras, 16, who said they got involved as one of the tutors due to their passion for accessibility and education, also said they knew firsthand how easy it can be to get “lost in a class.” The current OPRF student said they often had a hard time in a classroom setting and knows that students can struggle with asking questions. By providing a one-on-one structure, Contreras believe the tutors will be able to meet students where they are.
Additionally, the program hopes to be able to include parents down the line by hosting seminars, as they believe parent participation in their children’s education is crucial for success.
“I don’t want parents to feel as if they can’t be engaged in their kids’ education because they come from a different country,” Contreras, whose parents are from Mexico, said. “We really want parents to feel like they have a voice in their kid’s education because that is something that a lot of parents of color, a lot of immigrant parents, a lot of low-income parents have been stripped off. We want them to have a voice.”
Currently, the program has five volunteer tutors who will be available to help students who sign up for the free service. Recruitment for tutors has been spreading through word of mouth.
Keenan White, 20, said he joined Tutortastic in hopes of continuing the work he had originally started through his involvement in another program which was unfortunately dismantled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the students who White used to mentor were also from marginalized communities.
While the program is open to every student who needs help, Serumaga asks for parents who can financially afford tutor services to consider using other resources.
“We accept everyone who’d like to use our tutoring services, but we ask that when applying, families be considerate that we still have limited space and are working very hard to make our program as accessible as possible to students from underserved and underprivileged communities who have little access to services like ours,” Serumaga said.
To sign up, parents can visit tutortastic.org. The program launches on Sunday, March 26 and will host tutoring sessions every Sunday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., Oak Park.
Tutortastic hopes to be able to continue to grow and potentially expand to not only serve Oak Park and neighboring communities but also reach children attending Chicago Public Schools. To reach that goal, Serumaga said it was important to start locally and set a strong foundation. They hope to be able to draw more volunteer tutors into the program as well as reach adult volunteers who might be able to help them with the managerial side of the program to help drive growth.
“We are looking to expand our program as much as possible and make it as accessible as possible,” Serumaga said.