Tutors Help Boost Student Reading Levels At Cass Street School

Students at Cass Street School saw a dramatic increase in their reading levels thanks to nearly 100 volunteers who participated in a first-time UWM tutoring program at the school. Fifty at-risk students received one-on-one tutoring last spring as part of a program facilitated by UWM's Partnerships for Education. Faculty and staff from the UWM School of Education, volunteers from neighborhoods and organizations surrounding the school and employees from area businesses volunteered their time throughout the semester to help boost kids' reading levels.

"We are very happy with the tutoring program," says Tim Kavanagh, Cass Street School principal. "This program is very volunteer friendly, and to have 100 volunteers come into a Milwaukee public school every week was tremendous. It really proved a lot of naysayers wrong."

The kindergarten through eighth-grade students participated in daily tutoring, with nearly 100 tutors participating over the course of the 23-week program. Tutors, each of whom was responsible for two students, had the option of tutoring daily or once a week. Students and volunteers alike were able to see measurable progress in students' reading abilities throughout their tutoring.

"Both of my assigned students were able to move to higher reading levels by the end of the year," says Felicia Saffold, assistant professor in the UWM School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction. "They were excited about their progress and I was excited to be a part of their development."

"We did near constant testing of students in the program and saw a couple of kids whose reading levels went up 2? grade levels," Kavanagh said. "The majority of participating students — 85 percent — improved one school year level in one semester. That speaks for itself."

The tutoring training and the tutoring curriculum were developed and implemented by Helping One Student to Succeed (HOSTS). The tutoring process was then coordinated and supervised by Laura Biesterveld, Cass Street School literacy coach and Community Learning Center coordinator, as well as other Cass Street School staff members. Biesterveld and Ruth Beiler served as co-academic coordinators at the school.

"This program is phenomenal. It's so exciting to see kids working on exactly what they need," Biesterveld said. "We're very happy with the results and feel very fortunate to be part of this program."

To keep the momentum going, Cass Street School received a 2003 Partnerships for Education mini grant for its comprehensive literacy project. Shorewood and Riverside University high schools also received mini-grants.

UWM's Partnerships for Education, an initiative of The Milwaukee Idea, was instrumental in the identification and recruitment of tutors for the tutoring program. UWM Partnerships for Education administrator Corliss D. Wood and Jennifer Wentzell, program assistant, also participated as weekly tutors.

In addition to the tutoring initiatives, Partnerships for Education is taking a lead role in the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, an alliance of community groups working to ensure that all children in MPS perform at or above grade level in reading, writing, and mathematics. The strategy behind the MPA is called comprehensive literacy — a framework providing skills and development across all curricular areas. UWM is helping to eventually recruit 105,000 tutors for MPS students, or one tutor per child.

The tutoring and initiatives, developed by the MPA Tutoring and Family Literacy implementation team and coordinated through the Partnerships for Education office, will continue this fall and spring at MPS and suburban schools throughout the area. Tutors are now being recruited for a number of schools, some of which include Westside Academy, Cass Street School, Milwaukee School of Languages, Jackie Robinson Middle School and Shorewood and Riverside University high schools. If you are interested in volunteering to be a tutor and or a mentor, please call the UWM Partnerships for Education at 414-229-2639 or visit UWM Partnerships For Education

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