By Lee Edwards
Retirement has not dampened former Chicago Public Schools educator Leon Williams' desire to teach in his community.
Since 2001, Williams has tutored youth as part of the Chicago Public Library's "Teacher in the Library" program at its Austin branch, 5615 W. Race Ave.
The goal of the program is to provide an additional academic resource to every library in the CPL system. According to CPL spokeswoman Alex Trimble, nearly 100,000 total sessions were provided by the program across all 80 branches during the 2015-16 school year.
Williams said his inspiration for teaching and tutoring comes, in part, from growing up in Memphis and Chicago without having a tutor to help him with school work. He said he sees himself in his pupils.
"There were times when I needed help with homework, but I didn't have anyone I could go to who was familiar with the math and science," said Williams, who described his opportunity to tutor youth is a "privilege."
Williams taught elementary school math and science from 2001 to 2004. He was later promoted to work in CPS' Office of Math and Science as a city-wide math and science specialist. He did that for three years.
As an instructor of math and science teachers, Williams would eventually work his way up to being responsible for 30 schools.
Williams earned his associate's degree from Malcolm X College before pursuing both a bachelor's and a master's degree from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has a master's degree in science from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to teaching, he worked in the chemical industry for 30 years before retiring in 1998.
Williams said he first began tutoring years ago at St. Martin De Porres Church, 5112 W. Washington Blvd., where he would help youth with their homework on weekends.
Latrice Ferguson, a children's librarian at the Austin Library, said it was "great" to have a certified teacher like Williams available.
"The kids really like working with him," said Ferguson. "There are kids who are regulars here who seek him out."
She elaborated that some youth come to the library just to spend time with Williams, regardless if they need homework assistance or not.
"He's a real asset to the community," said Ferguson. She said Williams' consistency at the library has allowed him to become some students' primary educator throughout their entire academic careers.
The Teacher in the Library program is entirely funded by The Chicago Public Library Foundation. Austin resident and Chicago Public Library Foundation board member Dia S. Weil and her husband, Ed Weil, personally see to it the Austin Library's program is funded, said Trimble.
For more information about the Austin Library visit https://www.chipublib.org/locations/6/.
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