BOTY teen launches tutoring program

Armando Pizano founder of the Bridge Tutor Program in Back of the Yards (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Armando Pizano founder of the Bridge Tutor Program in Back of the Yards (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

It was the summer of 2016 during a family trip to Mexico when 18-year-old Back of the Yards resident Armando Pizano volunteered his time to tutor and mentor at Benito Juarez, a primary school in Irapuato Guanajuato (GTO). Little did Pizano know that his trip and ability to connect with others through this experience would inspire him to start a tutoring program back home in Back of the Yards (BOTY).

As a child, Pizano focused more on playing soccer in the alley rather than on his grades and learning. He attended Hedges Elementary School.

“Once I had the opportunity to see another perspective at Jones, I recognized that I wasn’t receiving as much guidance as I could have. My fellow cohorts at Jones had tutors their entire lives,” said Pizano.

Having learned that his peers had access to private tutors, Pizano began to make connections to the kind of support that was required to spark the interest of young learners to pursue higher grades and education.

He started tutoring at Hedges during his Freshman year at Jones College Preparatory (JCP). It wasn’t until his junior year in 2016 when he had the privilege of visiting Gaytan, GTO Mexico that he was inspired to go the extra mile.

While in Mexico, he and his sister led English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for students who attended the small primary school in the rancho. It was also there that Pizano recalled the school’s principal told him “a lot can be done with a little determination and a little practice.”

Pizano took these words to heart, came home inspired and began reaching out to his neighborhood friends who were attending Back of the Yards College Prep (BOTYCP). He asked them to join him in his efforts to help tutor students in the neighborhood.

Soon Pizano’s tutoring initiative was well underway, and he developed a program that would tutor the youth of Hedges.

But Pizano also says that Back of the Yards is not the only neighborhood that needs access to higher education services. For this reason, Pizano and his friends expanded and began providing access to other schools in various neighborhoods.

So far, the Bridge Tutor Program has reached Lara and Hedges Elementary schools in Back of the Yards, Hernandez Middle School and Acero Elementary School in Brighton Park, and Kinzie Elementary School in Garfield Ridge.

Tutors and students at the Bridge Tutor Program at Hedges. (Photo courtesy of the Bridge Tutor Program)

Tutors and students at the Bridge Tutor Program at Hedges. (Photo courtesy of the Bridge Tutor Program)

The tutors are currently recruited from local area high schools’ National Honors Society (NHS) student program. This recruitment model was something Pizano thought through before expanding the program. In turn, these students receive their national service supply hours required by NHS.

“We currently have approximately 250 students and 150 tutors; we’ve gone far in a year. I think that the success and expansion are attributed to the fact that there aren’t

enough tutoring programs that are free of cost,” said Pizano.

At Hedges alone, 16 tutors volunteer their time to the program. As a result of the Bridge Tutor Program, the students per tutor ratio grew from being a one-on-one to being two students per one tutor ratio.

Pizano spent the summer of 2017 recruiting friends and classmates who shared a will to do good work with the community. He invited them to join him in creating a board. Pizano’s goal is to convert the Bridge Tutor Program, into a 501c3 organization.

The process has not been an easy one and developing this program has been a lot of work for Pizano. “It’s a lot of hard work, I can’t deny that. I email like two hours a day and most people in office jobs don’t like that. I do it because it is for the program and at the end of the day it makes me happy helping these children,” said Pizano.

Every Monday and Tuesday, Pizano and his friends Nuo Chen and David Gonzalez, dedicate time to meet at Harold Washington Library to discuss paperwork processes that are required to convert the Bridge Tutor Program into the 501c3 organization status.

The Bridge Tutor Program has been successfully running for a little over a year. Pizano is passionate about giving back to his BOTY neighborhood and believes that he will make a difference with his efforts. He attends Jones College Preparatory (JCP) in the South Loop and makes his commute every day via public transportation.

Pizano is looking forward to seeing the program transform into an organization and has big goals that will support the education of many students. In the future, he plans to add a third tier to the program and have college tutors support high school and grade school students. “I want this concept of bridging the local high schools with local elementary schools to help students all across the city of Chicago.”