One-on-one Reading Tutoring Unlocks Opportunity for Struggling Readers

What if all children have the literacy skills they need to reach their full potential? In our vision, the possibilities are infinite.

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Reading Partners began with an idea, that one-on-one reading tutoring can make a lasting impact for students. I was hooked from the beginning when I started as a tutor in 2012. My first student, Ana, was 2 years behind in reading, but succeeded in math until she encountered word problems. Struggling to read had a domino effect, taking away Ana’s ability to succeed in other subjects. Her teacher referred her to Reading Partners. Working with Ana, I saw that the program was more than just a short-term intervention; it helped kids develop skills that last a lifetime and help them achieve their dreams. In 2015, I jumped at the chance to join the Reading Partners team as the executive director to help empower hundreds of Sacramento students. The best part of my work week still is tutoring my student.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

Website

http://readingpartners.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Oakland

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Sacramento

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

According to the Department of Education, 74% of low-income Sacramento 4th-graders did not meet state standards for reading last year. In 4th grade, students transition from learning to read to using reading to learn other subjects. Thus, mastery of reading becomes a critical component of their ability to keep up academically. Thousands of students experience an increasing academic disadvantage, falling further behind their peers each year.

To ensure Sacramento is the best place for children to learn, our community needs a support network. With a structured, research-based curriculum that requires no prior experience, we transform any volunteer into a high-quality instructor, enabling us to reach more children and increase the capacity of public schools. We mobilize hundreds of community members to tutor, mentor, and empower struggling readers, one-on-one, for an entire school year. Our efforts focus on young K-4 students early in their school careers to maximize the amount of instruction they receive before their achievement gap widens, ensuring that as many students possible are reaching proficiency by fourth grade. Our students thrive with the supportive attention of their tutors, and these relationships foster self-confidence and a belief that education matters.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded

1999

Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Teachers refer students to our program who are 6 months to 2 years behind in grade-level reading. Working with a tutor one-on-one, students develop more than just the reading skills necessary to succeed in school; they find confidence. At the beginning of the year Anna’s tutor had to sit incredibly close in order to hear her. Ella was doubtful and anxious about her reading and comprehension skills. Her tutor was often only met with silence when asking her questions about what she read. Week by week, a new child emerged—one who smiled, made eye contact, and answered questions confidently. By the end of the school year, Ella was reading loudly and proudly in the reading center and in her classroom. These skills will last Ella a lifetime.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In the 2014-15 school year, 9 out of 10 target students in our Emerging Readers curriculum mastered key foundational literacy skills. For 88% of target students who increased their rate of learning, the average student more than doubled his or her rate of learning reading skills while enrolled in our program. 99% of students who were rated by their teachers as having low confidence increased their confidence levels in their reading ability by year’s end.

We know we are successful when we see measurable change in our students’ academic ability, which is why data collection and analysis are core features of our program. We gather three sources of data: results from research-based literacy assessment tools that our staff administers three times a year, state standardized test scores, and teachers and tutors surveys on students' reading skills, confidence, and classroom participation.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Reading Partners is funded by three revenue sources: 1) Fee for Service from schools, 2) AmeriCorps national public funding grants, and 3) Local philanthropy. Our priority is building a diverse base of philanthropic support from foundation, corporate, and individual donors to sustain and grow the program. Our fundraising plan in Sacramento aims to increase and diversify revenue streams in order to fully underwrite our expenses from local sources.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center’s Star Readers program and City Year offer tutoring services, but these programs do not provide as comprehensive of an intervention as Reading Partners. Our program generates real changes in student achievement that are measurable over time. We stand apart because we engage communities in our work; we use a proven program, researched by the industry leading MDRC firm; and we individualize our program to meet students’ needs. Yet, we welcome view any organization striving to increase literacy for Sacramento students as a welcome partner.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Two approaches are making a real difference for children: Home visits and community schools. Both break down the silos between families, the community, and students. Children exist in a world that extends beyond the school and home visits allow parents and teachers to get to know each other better, share their hopes and dreams for students, and work collaboratively. Community schools invite students to participate in issues they care about outside the classroom. The outside world becomes the curriculum. This connects students to a world bigger than themselves and prepares them for adult life.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Red Rover

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Photo of Fred Cardenas
Team

Sounds like a wonderful tutoring program and would love to know more details about the training the tutors undergo.  Reaching very needy students includes sensitizing the tutors to the population you serve and their needs and how your program is doing that would be a wonderful addition to the description.

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