How We Built a Relationship-Based Tutoring Program

We love highlighting Clubs that are doing GREAT work! Today, the team from Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Tennessee comes to ClubX to explain how their tutoring program has been a huge success for their organization. Thanks to Lauren La Porte, Co-Interim Chief Executive Officer; Josh Campbell, Co-Interim Chief Executive Officer; and Brady Hargrove, Club Services Director, for writing this post!

Academic Success is well known as one of BGCA’s top outcome areas, and that focus is especially important if you are an organization like ours that manages before and afterschool care for an entire school district. Impact data is critically important when making the case that we belong in schools. Our Academic Case Management Program combines weekly tutoring by certified teachers with intensive case management using real-time data from the school system’s parent portal. The program purpose is to ensure high drop-out risk members (Ds & Fs, truancy, behavior issues, etc.) progress on time to the next grade level each year and graduate high school ready for college, trade school, military, or employment. Due in part to the success of our data collection (which resulted in our organization receiving BGCA’s national Honor Award in Education and Career Development in 2019), our organization was selected to manage a state-mandated tutoring program the school district secured. This increased the reach of the organization to over 400 youth currently being tutored by certified teachers during the Club’s afterschool programs, with a state-mandated goal of increasing to 900 youth tutored this school year.

A young youth development professional wearing a sweater and a face mask pointing to a homework page while a young masked student smiles

Through our unique school system partnership, we have access to members’ class schedules, assignments, quiz grades, attendance, suspension records, and more via the district’s Parent Portal. Our tutors utilize this data to provide intensive weekly case management. We can see when a member has a test coming up, assist them, and then see how they did on it. We also see when students miss class, don’t turn in work, or get suspended. We investigate these problems individually and provide members with the resources to address these issues BEFORE they lead to failing a course. That could be anything from attending parent/teacher conferences to contacting the teacher and arranging for make-up work to be done at the Club. The tutors are the hub, setting the member’s academic plan and communicating with teachers, parents, and Club staff every week to reinforce that plan.

With Academic Success being paramount in the development of our youth, a well-rounded tutoring program at your Club should be a top priority. The question is, where to start?

Train staff intentionally.

Before you look to collaborate with a school district, it is important to make sure your training program is adequate to ensure your front-line staff, who may be working with youth for the first time as a Youth Development Professional, have the confidence and skills they need to develop the relationships with members needed to successfully help them learn. Our organization currently has 8 Weikart Youth Work Methods trainers on staff as well as six Tier 2 National Trainers, one Tier 1, and three Learning Coaches. These suites of training combined allow our certified staff trainers to facilitate sessions on the basics of how to program afterschool, meeting youth needs, and how to interact with young people. Once you have that down, you just need to hammer out the who, when, and where the interactions should take place.

A short-haired Black female staff person sits next to a young Black boy holding a pencil as they both look at a homework page

Assess your community needs and look for partners.

The support of your school district is important for a few reasons. As Club professionals we are not teachers, nor should we try to be. The Club is uniquely positioned to be less restrictive than the classroom, which allows us to focus on social-emotional development. With that said, it is important that we work collaboratively with the educators who also work with our youth to ensure gaps in their education are identified and strengthened before they move on to the next grade level. For the last ten years, our organization has been applying for and securing grants to pay certified teachers to work as part-time tutors with a subset of youth in need of additional support.

A white female staff member sits in a chair next to a young Black boy standing in front of a whiteboard. They are both writing the word that.

Incentivize staff learning.

Just like we see youth move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation through Power Hour, offering incentives to your staff to learn at first will translate into much higher performance in the future. Your team are who will take the inputs and resources the organization secures and translate them into positive youth outcomes. That is important to remember because your impact as an organization on your community is only as strong as your team leading the program. Our organization has gone through many iterations of Academic-focused positions including a Chief Academic Officer and full-time Academic Success Directors, but last year we flipped the model on its head. We created learning tracks focusing on the three priority outcome areas. We offer these training tracks to promising entry-level staff as well as site managers to strengthen their knowledge base and performance with youth. Our Academic Outcomes Coordinator training blends in-person trainings from the Methods and NTI, online trainings through Spillett Leadership University and SAGA’s Tutor Training Program (more about this below!), and required readings. Staff are eligible for two raises in our system- the first upon completion of the training requirements and the second once they successfully complete a cycle of a targeted program- like running Power Hour with fidelity for a semester.

Two young girls smile as they use math manipulatives

Once you have the big picture pieces in place, the next step is developing a meaningful relationship with your youth. SAGA Education offers a Tutor certification course online and free to Club professionals that does a great job of teaching staff how to develop strong relationships with youth to enhance tutoring impact. All of our Academic Success Coordinators are required to complete the certification and in addition to the knowledge they gained, it was a huge confidence boost to some of the staff that may not know all the answers to the members’ homework questions (which as SAGA and Weikart’s Homework Help training explains- you don’t have to, it’s not your homework, you just need to know how to make the child think critically about the questions to discover the answers themselves.) The SAGA training shares a few key components that are instrumental in developing the relationships needed for a strong tutoring program.

  • Consistency: As our youth have lives that vary in consistency, your Club should stay as consistent as you can make it. The more positive consistency you can provide for your youth, the more confidence will be instilled throughout your Club. Consistency also implies a length of time that the relationship has been cultivated. You can’t expect a new member to thrive in a setting that they know nothing about.
  • Daily Check-Ins: A daily check-in can seem like an easy task to complete but the way you do it is just as important. A great outlet that your Club should utilize is the BGCA Pulse Check Guide. This guide will not only provide meaningful questions that will build a positive relationship, but also has a few options on how you conduct these check-ins. The most important thing you can do whenever leading a pulse check as a staff member is to give positive body language through nodding, smiling, eye contact, and following up with open-ended questions.
  • Low Ratios, High Outcome: We discovered that having smaller groups with the same tutor every single day will build a culture of trust between tutor and student IF you also are hitting the two steps stated above. When you provide a culture of trust, it will ease the uncomfortable feeling that may arise in a young person when attending a tutoring session. They will start to feel safer and more agreeable with building on a new skill in the session you provide during tutoring. That is where the real magic happens!

The combination of all of these elements has not only enhanced our program for the youth we serve – including our academic case management program – but also lead to us starting a contract with our public school district this past spring as a subcontractor to run the TN All Corps Tutoring Program, funded in part by the state Department of Education. This program is intended to help students cover from COVID-19 related learning loss by providing high-dosage, low-ratio tutoring in reading and math. This tutoring is taking place in the after-school setting, with our organization managing the program logistics. As a result, 300 youth received after school tutoring during the spring semester and this year’s goal from the state is for 900 youth to be tutored over the course of the school year. For managing this program, we are receiving a monthly per-child reimbursement from the school district, which has become a new income source for us as we face the post-COVID fiscal cliff.

But most importantly? It’s helping us create #GreatFutures for our youth.

Register for the free Tutor certification course from Saga Education online. Want to hear more from the BGC South Central Tennessee team? Watch this recorded webinar from our Back-to-School series: Relationship-Based Tutoring. Learn more about building partnerships with local school districts in BGCA’s School Partnerships suite of tools.

Three staff members smile at the camera
Brady Hargrove, Joshua Campbell, and Lauren La Porte

How do you provide academic support to the youth you serve? What innovative programs or initiatives have been game changers for your Boys & Girls Club organization? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email

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