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Educators use new-found freedom to create t2

Teaching collaborators DanGillis left Ellie Rubenstehave launched t2 downtown HighlPark provide help enrichment confidence building for students.|  Karen Berkowitz/Sun

Teaching collaborators Dana Gillis, left, and Ellie Rubenstein have launched t2 in downtown Highland Park to provide help, enrichment and confidence building for students.| Karen Berkowitz/Sun Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2013 3:34PM

Highland Park educators Ellie Rubenstein and Dana Gillis didn’t expect to leave classroom teaching in 2013.

But when unforeseen events led the teachers to resign their positions, they seized the opportunity to create a niche that allowed them to make connections with students free from the constraints and frustrations that seemed to be zapping the creativity and inspiration from education.

In late summer, the former Lincoln School colleagues launched t2, a business that provides one-on-one and small-group support and enrichment to students between kindergarten and 12th grade. Thanks to help from an investor, they opened in downtown Highland Park office space at 1910 First St.

The name “t2” brought to mind multiple interpretations — perhaps two teachers or two teachers tutoring, perhaps teaching exponentially or that time-honored advice to “think twice.”

They hesitate to call themselves tutors in the traditional sense.

“Nothing against tutors — they’re a great resource,” said Rubenstein. “But people tend to think of tutors as someone you sit with to do your homework. You figure out what you did wrong and they send you on your way. You come back, and work on a different piece of homework.

“While traditional tutoring focuses on gaps in learning, we also recognize that many kids are not able to be challenged appropriately in the public school system, through nobody’s fault.”

Said Gillis, “There are so many demands today, it is just virtually impossible to attend to every child’s needs the way that you need to in order to be as effective as you can.”

In August, t2 offered a Boot Camp to prepare students for the new school year. The teachers have been working with students on organizational and study skills — often referred to as “executive functioning” — as they make the transition from fifth grade to middle school. The teachers also are helping students with public speaking, college essays and simply helping to build confidence.

“It is so open and comfortable here,” said Gillis. “You want to create that safe, comfortable environment in the classroom where students are able to take risks, but it is difficult because there is so much to do.

“We can spend 10 minutes discussing with a student how they are studying for a particular test ... in a way we could never do in the classroom because there simply wasn’t enough time,” said Gillis.

That kind of conversation can allow students to figure out for themselves what hasn’t been working, and an alternative study approach that might yield better results, she added.

Rubenstein and Gillis left their positions with North Shore District 112 amid a highly-publicized controversy that started when they and two colleagues received involuntary transfers, causing a backlash among some parents.

The events brought into sharp focus their frustrations with test-driven teaching methods, and layers of mandates they believed were limiting teachers’ ability to create those authentic learning opportunities that spark the “aha” moments with students.

Gillis notes that with the arrival of the Common Core standards, classroom teachers must teach a prescribed number of minutes in each subject at set times of the day and document that they’ve kept to the schedule in records that will be audited.

Rubenstein addressed some of those professional frustrations in a You Tube video announcing her resignation in late May. The clip went viral among educators and has received nearly 600,000 views.

In addition to t2, the teachers are continuing to make instructional rap videos for distribution on You Tube under Tunes2Teach, using the moniker, Professors DanEllieRubillis. Their first rap video teaching the scientific method of inquiry has received about 60,000 views. The teachers saw a significant uptick around the start of the school year.

“It is such a great feeling to know that teachers all over the country, the world even, are using it to teach their students,” said Rubenstein.

Since then, they’ve produced Writing Style to distinguish expository, narrative and persuasive writing forms; and Just Behave to promote positive behavior and decorum. Their current work in progress addresses reading.

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