Alonzo is reading further into books, says his mother, Tamira Muir. Ashlee Watts-Page says her son Cayden gets excited when he recognizes words in stores.
Both children were part of the fall pilot of the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) Literacy Tutoring Program, which enrolled 25 students in kindergarten through third grade. The 11-week program is again under way this spring with nearly twice as many students, and it has expanded to include fourth- through sixth-graders.
“The Literacy Tutoring Program is a new example of UMB delivering something meaningful that will help change the trajectory and lives of the students,” said Nick Kouwenhoven, MBA, ALL’s executive director. “The literacy challenge facing K-12 students in Baltimore spans the grade levels. But if you can learn to read early, it’s enormously important for your ability to progress.”
This spring, the tutors are a mix of professional tutors, UMB graduate students, and retired teachers who are trained in the literacy curriculum and have extensive tutoring experience. The tutors are given a lesson plan for the day from a curriculum specialist and specific books to read with the students.
“When they finally start to learn the sounds, and they all do it together and they all read out loud, it’s like that ‘aha’ moment,” said Aza Shiao, a University of Maryland School of Dentistry student who tutored in the fall. “You can see their gears turning in their heads.”
ALL found that the majority of students who participated in the fall made significant progress in their literacy skills during the program.
Muir, whose son Alonzo took part in the program in the fall and is participating again this spring, said, “I’m seeing there aren’t as many errors with his work. He’s able to do 15 minutes of reading, we’re getting a lot further in his book. I’m starting to see the fluency with his reading improve. He’s able to get a lot more completed in his reading over time.”
Watts-Page, whose son Cayden also is back for the spring session, said she also had seen improvements.
“This program will definitely be a benefit, being able to have that one-on-one. They don’t judge them or look at them differently,” she said.
This spring, ALL is holding three classes with 15 students in each. Two of the classes are for students in kindergarten through third grade, many of whom participated in the fall tutoring. “We are continuing to support their progress this spring,” Kouwenhoven said.
The third class consists of students in grades four to six, predominantly from James McHenry Elementary/Middle School.
Two of the classes are held at UMB’s Community Engagement Center (CEC), with students being transported there on the UMB Police Athletic/Activities League van. The program also is holding a class after school at Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy.
“We recognize that we are an institution of higher learning that values the importance of providing literacy, not only for adults but for children as well,” said Kyle Locke, MS, chief development officer for the University of Maryland Graduate School, which ALL is part of. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The program design, with the students meeting three times per week, is called high-dosage tutoring, and recent educational research indicates that this frequency accelerates learning, Kouwenhoven said.
“It’s not an abstract thing. It’s intensely personal,” he said. “Being able to help a family and child read may be one of the most important things you can do. We’ve helped them gain significant skills they didn’t have in something that’s very important to them and may set them on a path that they wouldn’t otherwise be on.”
Muir said the program gives children in the community an opportunity.
“For those that don’t have the opportunity or the resources to go into a private setting, I think this program is amazing for them to give their child a fighting shot,” she said.
Erik Neilsen and Danny Siebenhaar of UMB’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs contributed to this article. ALL’s goal is to grow this program to serve more students in more grade levels at the CEC and in schools. A donation to the Literacy Tutoring Program will enable UMB to improve the literacy skills of more students in Baltimore.
Read about another of the University’s tutoring programs in the community, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s A Bridge to Academic Excellence.