Building a tutoring space

Only 10% of schools report that their students have ubiquitous internet access at home and school. This plays a big role in perpetuating the “homework gap” throughout the country, but within this homework conversation, there is often a blind spot for many. What about the space needed to study and complete homework? Being at home in a quiet space isn’t a possibility for many, and when it is quiet, it can be filled with the stress of caring, loving and demanding parents. We should be asking how we can help students find the space that they need for academic focus that isn’t filled with pressure and anxiety.  Like most challenges in education, the homework gap is a more complex issue than it appears.

The unstructured, unproductive time immediately following school and into the evening is perfect for tempting risky behavior, and when you couple it with a lack of space for students to complete homework and study, a huge need arises for communities trying to support their next-generation leaders. Though sports practices, libraries and other after-school activities look to fill this space, a number of students and families have nothing to push back against these pressures. The need for a space exists.

Enter The House, a learning space in Glencoe, Ill. It is a space with deep intentional design that is looking to step into this gap. It is a solution that can support families and communities by disrupting the traditions of the normal learning model. Designed with precision, this tutoring lounge allows middle and high school students the space that they need for connection, reorientation and reinvigoration with their learning.  “We have members that are getting excited about learning again,” says founder Gil Gibori.

Gibori has been listening to students and families for more than a decade through his in-home tutoring company, Chicago Academic, and his empathy-based solution has become The House. This project has a deep social mission for Gibori and his staff. They are looking for a way to showcase that where learning takes place matters, and they believe that with the right design that includes support, tutoring, lots of Wi-Fi and a unique physical space design that they can attract students and families to a space that elevates the idea of learning beyond the bell.

“School is the student’s work, so if they have to do it, let’s help them enjoy it,” said Gibori. The House is a new resource partner for students, families and schools near Glencoe, Ill. Since their December 2018 opening, they have served members and guests from a wide variety of middle and high schools in the area. The positive reviews on social media and in conversations throughout the communities have created a buzz that is catching the attention of additional families, community leaders and local business owners.

The House continues to rely on its tutoring roots and academic support personnel to meet individual needs including the use of assistive technology and software for students that need these supports.  Using the website homework.sucks, students can leverage the technology that is always at their fingertips to request homework support in whichever academic subject they choose, and if they are looking for a greater level of support, they can schedule a private tutoring session as a part of their membership agreement between The House and their parents.

Students are migrating from disrupting the local Starbucks and being too noisy for the library to the tutoring lounge where social space melds with academic space. The House has a full kitchen with quality food and drinks that are available for its members. They have support for homework, and potentially, the most important element, there are no parents allowed, creating a safe, comfortable sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is central to the mission of The House. Too often studying, doing homework, and asking for help can get buried in the noise of technology disruption and social pressures, but The House is finding the right blend of both through the many elements of its intentional design.

The true success story from the first months has been that The House has become a home for the members. It has been become a space where it is OK to laugh, hangout and watch videos in one breathe and study for AP Physics and finish homework in the next. This sense of home is bringing together an amazing and complex collection of students including musicians, athletes and artists.

“We knew that we would be supporting both the academic needs and emotional needs of students through the tutoring lounge, but we never expected to be the catalyst for so much happiness. School, for so many of our members, isn’t a happy time or space, but our model is supporting them,” said Helen Sianis-Athanasiou, tutoring director at The House.

Success stories are filling The House. The team described one student that was chronically sleep deprived and struggling with the demands of school. They are already seeing how the structure, support and routine of being a member at The House was breaking that cycle. They were also excited to share the journey of one member who was in deep conflict at home about his school performance, and how, through the space and support at The House, he is slowly relaxing, building a new routine around school work, and even beginning to use the supports at The House. Success takes on so many forms at The House. A group of middle school girls use The House as their daily social space after school. This group comes in to their work completed but is able to have a comfortable space where they are welcomed to eat, relax and be themselves as opposed to the need to move along when they hang out in other downtown businesses.

The House is thriving in supporting complex kids, the students that don’t fit the paths and paces that traditional schooling dictates. Eli Rollman, who serves as a director for The House said that their work was changing family dynamics for the positive. He shared how one night, a member appeared at 9:30 p.m., just thirty minutes before they normally close, because she needed the right space in that right moment to overcome an academic roadblock. Instead of feuding with her family or going to bed frustrated, The House was open, available and ready to serve in this moment.

Early results are emerging. Students are completing more homework. Students are sleeping more. Students and families have more time together in both quantity and quality, and students are surrounded with more caring adults -- which is something that all kids need in today’s messy world. The House is a safe space, and it can and will play a role in growing healthy communities wherever they open their doors.

In August, a new space, designed on the research and study of the Glencoe location will open Highland Park, Ill. Gibori is looking to expand beyond Chicago as well. He believes that the tutoring lounge concept is a needed reality for students and families trying to succeed in our current formal learning environment. Schools need partners, and businesses like The House see their mission as creating a sustainable, scalable business that serves a deep social purpose. Each location of The House will be optimized by the needs of the students and the community in which it resides.

He also believes that this nimble and agile design approach is one that schools could potentially use to shift their spaces as well. “Forward thinking schools are looking for solutions from wherever they can find them, and we want to partner with schools that are considering how to reshape their environments to support students. The House can serve as an incubator for schools around the country that are considering ways to raise the level of engagement, excitement and wellness of students in their schools,” said Gibori.

The House provides a bridge to modern work spaces as well. Students graduating from a traditional high school with traditional classrooms, traditionally struggle in an open concept, collaborative work environment without some experience on how to exist in these modern designs. The House provides this practice and give its members the space to learn how and where they learn, collaborate, study and produce excellent work. For many students, it will be their greatest parallel to the modern work environment.

Robert Dillon has served as a thought leader in education over the last twenty years as a teacher, principal, and director of innovation. He has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. Learn more about The House by visiting its website at www.the.house.

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