The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Twin Cities 2011, March 26-27

Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation

Every day, over 38,500 students arrive at one of the Saint Paul Public Schools with an array of educational experiences, skills and needs. Some students are reading and doing math before they enter kindergarten, while other students have never held a pencil, played number games, or read books at home. Regardless of a student’s preparation for school, we maintain high expectations and provide an education which allows and encourages all students to meet or exceed those expectations. The Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation supports academic achievement through its three major program areas:

1 - Tutoring Partnership for Academic Excellence: In Saint Paul Public Schools, 50% of students are not proficient in reading or math. To address this problem, the Foundation coordinates a city-wide partnership that strives to eliminate the district's achievement gap and increase the quality of tutoring in Saint Paul. This school year, over 4,500 students are being tutored by 28 community-based tutoring programs in 41 schools across the city. In 2009, 74% of students tutored through the partnership made medium or high growth in reading and 72% made medium or high growth in math.

2 - Community Schools: The Foundation supports community schools where rigor and extended-day learning are combined with holistic services for students and their families. The Foundation helped secure a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant for Saint Paul to support the expansion of the community school model.

3 - Grants to Support Student Success: The Foundation provides funding to support teachers, schools, district initiatives and community partners. Over the last three years, the Foundation has provided $250,000 in grants for district initiatives and $225,000 in grants to community partners.

What new functionality we are looking for

It is truly a wonder that anyone applies to become a volunteer tutor through our website! The site lacks clear structure, does not include any information about specific tutoring programs (including locations and time commitments), and does not fully communicate what the tutoring experience is like. Our website is one of our most important recruitment tools: it must be effective in sharing information and demonstrating the impact of volunteer tutoring.

At first glance, our site actually seems decent. There are some nice pictures, a cool banner, and a pleasant color theme. However, a little more detective work reveals some serious flaws. Our website lacks information about the tutoring programs for which we recruit volunteers. While the homepage includes icons for each program, these icons disappear when you click on the program page (see: Visitors will also notice that the URL of the page does not always match the title of the page. For example, the URL for the grants page reads "celebrating academic excellence." One of our key pages, the volunteer page, includes two of the same pictures right next to each other (see: Even our staff members have trouble navigating the website and finding information, let alone directing others around the site. Our list of website faux pas goes on; please see for yourself. A serious redesign of the structure and format of our website will make it more user-friendly for all those involved with the Foundation's work. When we direct tutors, program staff, and community members to our website, we want to ensure that they are not only engaged, but that their questions are answered.

Our website needs to serve as a strong recruitment tool for volunteers. In order to recruit tutors, our website must actively engage visitors and persuade them that our cause is critical to the strength of Saint Paul. We would like to better incorporate videos and pictures that demonstrate what tutoring is and why it is so important. By highlighting testimonials from students, tutors, and programs, our website will bring in more volunteers who can serve more students in Saint Paul. In addition, we would like to display a 'tutor thermometer' that encourages involvement by showing our progress towards annual recruitment goals.

Once volunteer tutors are engaged, the website must be useful and easy to navigate. When tutors apply to volunteer through the Foundation, they should be able to learn information about each tutoring program online. Frequently asked questions should be answered on our website. In addition, tutors should be able to connect with one another to discuss their shared experiences. We envision a message board where volunteers can learn from one another and where program staff can answer questions and respond to challenges. In order to do this, we need better integration of all of our social media tools and our website.

The community-based tutoring programs in our partnership need to be able to easily access training materials, best practice resources, and activities online. Program staff also rely on our website for advertisement of their tutoring opportunities. We envision profiles exhibiting each of our partners, where details of different tutoring positions are available. An interactive map could improve access for both potential volunteers and program leaders.

We have a grand vision of what our website could look like; we just need the help to get it there!

How the new functionality will help

Our website will help more kids have a volunteer tutor.

Half of the kids in Saint Paul are not proficient in reading and math and are in need of academic support. We need tutors to help students succeed; a better website will help us engage more volunteers to tutor more students in Saint Paul. Volunteers are the backbone of our organization. The Tutoring Partnership supports 2,000 volunteers that tutor over 4,500 students in Saint Paul. These volunteers connect with us primarily through our website - they apply to be tutors, receive training information and access tutoring resources online. By improving the functionality, structure and accessibility of our website, we will be able to engage with a far greater number of community members and as a result, serve more students.

Our website can help more community-based organizations do tutoring, better.

Our tutoring partners need support. The Tutoring Partnership provides technical support, resources, and professional development opportunities for tutoring programs city-wide. While many of these services are provided in person, we have begun offering additional resource materials online. For example, a tutoring program can download literacy pacing guides and elementary literacy training guides directly from our website. However, many of our partners have had trouble accessing these resources with ease. We want our website to be a valuable tool to help partners better serve their students. In doing so, we will more effectively fulfill the mission of our organization and support student success. A better website will lead to better tutoring programs!

Please see our testimonial video, which we have posted at

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

Before & After Snapshots

Thumbnail_screen%20shot%202011-03-18%20at%203.54.29%20pm Thumbnail_after_home

3 Messages from Supporters

2011-02-16 23:30:50 UTC
Terry Blake

Why I Tutor
Terrence Blake, Vice President
Corporate Communications for Lawson Software)
January 2011

"Our group of Lawson ‘volun-tutors’ has been active at Maxfield Magnet
and several other St. Paul schools since the beginning of this school year. I tutor a 6th grade girl in math once a week, and I try to help her see how math is important in her life. As tutors, we reinforce
the learning taking place in the classroom. But we are also role models who show students that we believe in them and in the importance
of education. When it comes to transforming our public schools, there are no easy answers but I believe community involvement is essential.”

2011-02-16 23:31:55 UTC
Jeffrey Wicklander, Vice President of Patient Care at United Hospital

“Underachieving students become under-employed, under-insured patients who end up in the Emergency Room because they don’t have the health benefits to support regular care. By tutoring, we can increase their potential to get good jobs and succeed. Recently, I have been recruiting volunteers from United Hospital and Regions Hospital to provide consistent tutoring for several students who could count on the encouragement and support of a group of nurses. Who knows? Maybe our work could inspire some of our students to become
nurses themselves.”

2011-02-16 23:33:04 UTC
Sunivang Vang, tutor, Hmong Youth Pride

“I started as a volunteer in the HYP program in 2008. I was 18 at the time, not knowing how quickly and how inspired I was going to be. I watched the other staff teach their students and I noticed that a lot of the younger students really enjoy having a one-on-one conversation with staff and that was something that I took into consideration deeply. The energy that I receive from my students is the kind that keeps me on my feet everyday. I feel I can make a difference, even if it’s a little one, in a young child’s life, by helping them, talking to them, asking them how was their day. I love what I do and
I wouldn’t trade it for the riches of the world.”

Our Mission

The mission of our organization is to rally investments of time and resources to support academic success in the Saint Paul Public Schools. We accomplish this through our primary program, the Tutoring Partnership for Academic Excellence. The Tutoring Partnership strives to increase the quality and quantity of tutors and tutoring programs in Saint Paul. We know that tutoring works to increase student proficiency in math and literacy. By recruiting, placing, and training volunteer tutors, we aim to provide students in Saint Paul with needed academic support. We believe that quality tutoring will help close the achievement gap and create a stronger Saint Paul.