NSP expects surge in applicants again

By Jen Glickel

The Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP), a program that employs University undergraduate and graduate students to work in elementary and high schools throughout Chicago anticipates having to turn down some students because of overwhelming interest in the program. Last year, NSP could not afford to pay all the applicants, though some chose instead to work on a volunteer basis.

“I would like to immodestly suggest that the popularity of the NSP program has grown substantially over the 29 years of its existence, and we now find ourselves in a position of having hundreds of University students who want to be in it,” said Duel Richardson, the director of Neighborhood Relations Educational Programs. “However, the response from University students [last year] was greater than the funding we had, so that we could not pay all the non- work-study students who wanted to be in our program.”

NSP receives funding from two sources: the central administration of the University and funding from the Federal Work-Study program. Despite the insufficient funds to pay all the non-work-study students interested in employment, NSP was able to pay 184 of the applicants for parts or all of last year. Richardson says that he expects comparably overwhelming student interest in the program for this year. As with last year, NSP will not be able to hire all interested students who do not qualify for work-study, but they intend to employ a substantial number.

In addition to last year’s 184 paid students, the program had 35 volunteers who were not paid by choice. “Working at a Chicago school was important enough to me that I wanted to do it regardless of pay,” said second-year in the College Nate Klug. “Besides, NSP always hinted at funding that might be available in the future.”

After not fitting well with the first school in which NSP placed Klug, he decided to stop volunteering a few weeks into fall quarter. Klug’s status as a volunteer as opposed to as a paid employee had negative consequences: “Since I was a volunteer, I was kind of under the radar and NSP didn’t really pay me any attention,” he said. “In fact, my ‘quitting’ went unnoticed until the early winter.”

After agreeing to take a paid position as a teacher’s assistant in a different school, Klug’s NSP experience has significantly improved. “I started work [at a different school] early last winter and have been working there ever since, two times a week,” Klug said. “NSP has been great to me.”

While the NSP’s inability to employ all interested students last year did not affect any one school in particular, there is a need for extra help in all 51 schools that participate in the program, especially for children who need individualized attention.

Second-year in the College Danae Roumis, was made acutely aware of this need last spring. Through NSP, Roumis tutored a fifth-grade boy who could not read. “It blew my mind that no individual attention had been previously given to someone that so desperately needed it, and also that he had managed to advance to the fifth grade despite obvious troubles that, undoubtedly, would have reflected on both classroom and standardized testing,” she said. “I learned a lesson about the Chicago Public Schools and the unfortunate, disheartening consequences of very low educational funding.”

NSP had approximately 400 students in the program last year, including the 35 unpaid volunteers. “Because the demand for jobs in the NSP has now become greater than our budget, which has steadily had reasonable, even more than reasonable, increases over the years, especially recent years, some of the student applicants for the NSP now participate without pay,” Richardson said. “Although we would rather be able to pay all students who want to be in the program, it is a testament to the NSP’s meaning for students that so many now want to be involved.”