Giving the gift of education

Publication Date

Antonio “A.J.” Gutierrez ’10 remembers what it took to get to a college like Union. Today, he is on a mission to ensure that others follow in his footsteps.

A.J. Gutierrez
Antonio "A.J." Gutierrez '10 holds a Strategic Plan brochure showing him as a Kenney Center tutor

He is co-founder and vice president of marketing and communications of Saga Education, a national non-profit that partners with 26 public high schools in Chicago, New York City and Washington to supplement teaching instruction by offering trained tutors for students who are falling behind. The program serves about 3,500 students annually, and over 12,000 since 2014.

At Saga, it’s about algebra first. Eighty percent of students who drop out of high school cite course failures as their number one reason, and Algebra 1 is the course most frequently failed, according to Saga. So, Saga tutors are focused on lifting ninth graders over the Algebra 1 hurdle, a challenge for teachers in large classes that require intensive individualized instruction.

Among Saga’s evidence of success, a study has shown that students earn up to 2.5 years of additional math learning per year in Saga, higher standardized test scores, and higher math and non-math GPAs. Last year, the Corporation for Community and National Service awarded Saga a three-year AmeriCorps grant, the second largest of 74 first-time awardees in the U.S. Saga was a 2020 honoree on Fast Company’s list of the 50 most innovative companies. Saga has the support of major philanthropies including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A.J. got his mission-driven spirit from his native Villa Victoria where the residents of the low-income Puerto Rican commu- nity in the South End of Boston have a reputation for community service and standing up for housing rights.

At 14, A.J. entered Match Education Charter School with less than mediocre marks and no confidence in his academic abilities. An in-school tutoring program, an early version of Saga, changed all that. He connected with tutors who called his parents each week and remembered his birthday. He started getting A’s and B’s. He found the confidence to pursue college. And he met a mentor, Match Executive Director Alan Safran, who would later become his cofounder at Saga.

He fell in love with Union when he visited on a college tour, but knew he had to find a way to finance his education. Enter the Posse Foundation, a leadership development program that operates on 60 college campuses with small, diverse and supportive groups of full scholarship students. “The stars really aligned for me when I found out about Posse and that Union would become a new partner,” he said. “It was wonderful to be a pioneer and to work alongside an amazing team to encourage courageous conversations about significant local and national issues.”

“I am grateful for Union’s continued partnership with the Posse Foundation,” he said. “It was wonderful to see Union Posse 14 and I have the new honor of being an OG Posse Scholar.”

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