Northeast corporations partner with NEMS to tutor students


Major corporations like Honeywell and General Mills are not usually recognized for being active partners in education.  Although corporations donate generous amounts to schools each year, you don’t hear about any direct relationships with a particular school. It’s a hands-off kind of support. But in Northeast Minneapolis, three corporations have been participating in a remarkable tutoring partnership with Northeast Middle School (NEMS).

Each winter, Honeywell, Graco, and General Mills provide one-on-one tutoring every

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to interested Northeast Middle School students. Students are bused directly from their home to corporate offices, all of which are located in Northeast Minneapolis.   There, the student receives a breakfast and one-on-one tutoring in either math or reading with an employee volunteer. After the tutoring session, they are bused to Northeast Middle School to begin their regular school day.  The cost of bus transportation each week, breakfast, and the volunteer tutor’s time is paid by each company.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The writer is a Northeast Middle School parent of a participant in the program.

According to Shelley Ignatowicz, volunteer coordinator at the school, NEMS has the longest running tutoring program in the MPS district operating since 1998. She said that the main goal of the program is to improve test scores for the MCA. And that goal seems to be working.   Each year, students not only pass but scores are improved.

Ignatowicz said that of the 33 students who participated in the 2011-2012 tutoring program, 16 increased their test scores by 1-9 points. Another eight improved their math or reading scores. While the remaining students did not increase their scores, they still made a year’s growth.

Students enjoy the voluntary program so much that Ignatowicz has no problem filling the available spots each year.

One student commented that, “My tutors at Graco help me to understand stuff that I did not know.”

Another said, “The tutors at Honeywell are nice and they teach me how to do math in other ways. It helps me to get it.”

Both students had participated in the program for two years. Ignatowicz also said that more than one student has told her that his/her tutor was able to explain a problem that he/she was unable to understand before. 


Unanswered questions

The NEMS tutoring program seems like a good resource for students. Some of the questions that still remain:

How many other Minneapolis schools have similar programs?

How many schools have volunteer coordinators?

What would it take for other schools to partner with area corporations and businesses for other programs like this to occur?

Because the tutoring occurs before school, students need to be willing to get up early to attend the sessions. But that doesn’t seem to matter because some are willing to participate more than one year in the program.

Honeywell was the first to sign on with the program and continues to be a longstanding supporter.

Shoshana Leon, community relations manager at Honeywell Aerospace said of the program: “Honeywell has a strong focus on inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. Honeywell is a longtime supporter of science and math education activities in our local communities, and our relationship with Northeast Middle School is a great example.”

Ignatowicz added that besides the tutoring partnership, these companies often contribute in other ways as well. One year when NEMS held a clothing drive, Honeywell produced two carloads of clothing.

An indirect benefit for the students is an opportunity to learn about different careers in a real work environment. Graco gives demonstrations, such as how water can cut metal.  General Mills shows how muffins and pancakes are made. A highlight of Honeywell’s program is the window tour of the factory. Students can see the electronic devices in operation.

Ian Perkins, lead tutor at Honeywell said that the kids at first don’t believe them when they show that some of the equipment they make is actually on Mars.

Kristi Lee, manager of the Graco foundation, said that Graco has always supported schools, including the first robotics program at Edison High School, but the relationship isn’t the same.

“Tutoring is a great way to give back and an opportunity for Graco to be personally involved. It’s different from writing a check.  Kids come to them and employees are able to establish a relationship. It’s a one on one relationship. We love this program,” she said.

Besides improved test scores, students gain a real sense of how important math and reading skills are in the workplace.

Honeywell tutor Katie Jacques said that when she sees something click in a student’s eyes, “it is self-gratifying and empowering for me. They are really learning and can apply it and added,  “I like to learn. They are teaching us as well –how we can reach out and connect with each other.”

RJ Strand, who has been tutoring at Honeywell for two years, said, “it’s fun to put myself back into their shoes and to help them see what is not making sense.”

According to Perkins, it sometimes even keeps them on their toes.

“They say thank you sincerely when they leave.  That’s the moment. They are benefiting from being here,” Jacques said.

At the end of the year, Ignatowicz brings all the tutors, students and parents together to recognize the students’ achievements and to endorse a program that is successful because of the efforts of several people coming together for a common goal.

Strand added that it is the kids who should be recognized for their effort as well.

“They all want to be here.  All have good attitudes. They are willing to wake up so early voluntarily and to do more than what’s expected.”