By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Sometimes a life’s work begins in grade school. John Stamm, 21, has already begun the philanthropic work he first felt called to do while at St. Thomas More School, a call that strengthened later at Holy Trinity Grade School in Lenexa, Kan., and at Olathe East High School. Now a senior at UMKC, John is organizer; manager; chief cook and bottle washer of Tutorious, a not-for-profit tutoring program that seeks to give every high school student who needs a tutor a chance to be tutored.
“The Civil War had just broken out in Sudan,” he recalled. “I wanted to spread the word that there were children over there, kids my age, that couldn’t go to school, who were starving or being forced to serve as child soldiers.
“Luckily, I’ve always been provided for,” he said. “Not everyone has that advantage.”
The second oldest of five children, and the only boy, John said that growing up, he was very influenced by his parents’ values. “That’s how I am what I am,” he said. “They showed me what equality is, what’s fair and what’s not, and they raised me to handle money well.”
He wants to give back a little of what he has received over the years. “Money is great,” he said, “but there’s nothing like getting involved in improving someone’s life. It’s a lot more personal.”
Realizing that there are many high school students who could benefit from some help to improve their grades, he signed on as a volunteer for Johnson County Adult Education’s General Education Equivalency (GED) tutoring and test preparation. He then worked for a test preparation organization.
Feeling he was ready to begin, John started Achievement Tutors in January 2011. Getting 501 (c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service to operate as a not for profit, he incorporated the fledgling operation early that year. Intending to tutor low income high school students for the ACT test and in all subjects, John enlisted nine friends to serve as the first Board of Directors and tutoring base. Achievement Tutors began seeking contracts to tutor in the Kansas City Missouri and Kansas City Kansas school districts, targeting students too old for established tutoring programs like the Upper Room, and too young for university tutoring programs.
“We ran into a roadblock, however,” John recalled. “We weren’t taken seriously, at first.”
It occurred to John and his board that maybe they needed to re-envision what they were trying to do, and change the name. “Achievement Tutors sounded a little stuck up. That wasn’t how we wanted to be perceived. I remembered a quote by Henry Ford: ‘I’m going to democratize the automobile industry.’ What he meant was that he was going to make car ownership affordable to the average American. That’s our goal, ‘Democratize Tutoring;’ make it affordable to every family whose teen needs tutoring, or an individualized education. A friend suggested Tutorious, and I thought ‘Yeah!’”
Tutorious began a volunteer tutoring program this past spring at Community Linc, a homeless shelter with transitional housing in Midtown.
While working to get the school district contracts, John met a community outreach representative of the Kansas City Missouri School District, and with her assistance, was able to get the contract. Tutorious now works with students at Alta Vista Charter School, and is in the process of starting a program at Central High School. Tutoring is free to the high schools, school districts and to students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs.
“The closeness of our age to theirs makes a difference,” John said. “We can relate better, we’re not like their teachers or parents or other authority. It gives us an advantage.”
Tutoring all comes down to the pressures put on a person, he added. “We don’t worry too much about grades, it’s what they are learning that we focus on, not just test scores.”
Although working at Alta Vista was a start, Tutorious wanted to do more to work with more students who needed help. Attempts to negotiate a tutoring contract with the Kansas City Kansas school district fell through and John and the board met to regroup and decide their next steps. It was decided to hold tutoring programs at churches. When he called St. James Catholic Church, John reached Deacon Ross Beaudoin.
“Deacon Ross invited me to meet with the Troost Alliance,” John said. The Troost Alliance is a network of churches and assistance agencies in or near the Troost corridor. St. James Church initiated the network in 2006.
“Meeting Deacon Ross was huge for Tutorious,” he said. “I was able to make connections with businesses, churches and agencies through the Troost Alliance. Deacon Ross was in this with me from the time he answered the phone, and he didn’t know what I was going to say!”
Tutorious has expanded to Atchison, Kan., where students from Benedictine College work with high school students, tutoring in all subjects and for ACT college entrance exams. John is recruiting tutors for beginning the program at Central High School. He has partnerships in the pipeline at several area colleges and universities. “We really need support from the colleges,” he said.
“We hope to get several more Tutorious programs going in the near future,” John said. “The first step is to get a school district to agree to contract with us and then we go to the school level to get students and their parents interested. If we have tutors on hand, a program can be set up without too much trouble.”
He said they hope to have Central High School’s tutoring program up and running soon, and perhaps one in St. Louis in early 2013.
Right now, Tutorious is looking to attract more trained tutors. Training is easy, he said, interactive with a lot of trainee involvement, all based on John’s experiences as a tutor. There is a background check requirement since a tutor will work with kids under the age of 16 as well as older students, and an hour’s training. Prospective tutors must be high school graduates. It’s a good idea to be comfortable with the subjects to be tutored. Tutorious would like to train about 40 tutors for the Kansas City area.
“We’re really excited,” John said, “because we received a grant from the Kansas City Children’s Assistance Network that will fund tutor’s background checks. They’re $11 each and that can add up.”
There are three types of tutoring available. T3: tutoring in all high school subjects. Students are identified by the school administration as those who would benefit from tutoring, and John said there are 10-15 students at each session. ACT prep: open to high school juniors and seniors, depending on testing dates (February and April dates are for seniors only). ACT prep tutors work with 30-40 students per session. Tutorious also offers independent, one-on-one tutoring held at a local library or public institution. Charges for independent tutoring are based on what the family is able to pay. Families are grateful for the service, John said. “We tutor at an agreed-upon fee, whether it’s free, $5, or $35 a session, they pay what they can.”
He plans to graduate with a degree in business administration and a minor in philosophy next May. Eventually he expects to go to law school, but for the foreseeable future, “I’ll probably stick with tutoring. Putting what I’ve learned in my business administration classes in practice starting Tutorious has taught me so much more than what I would have gotten only from textbooks. I’ve had a hand in everything about Tutorious. I haven’t reached the point where I can say, ‘OK, I’m satisfied, now on to something else.’ I really don’t know if I ever will. I would like to see Tutorious grow so it can support itself through independent tutoring and donations.”
John is not alone in benefiting from Tutorious. Students have prospered or at least improved their grades; the tutors themselves have learned more about the subjects worked on with their students; and families watch their children grow less frustrated, more interested in their classes — all have learned something. Isn’t that part of what philanthropy is all about?
To learn more about Tutorious, visit www.tutorious.org