Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Afterschool Succeeds with In-School Support: Reading Partners in DC

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA has featured the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. To wrap up our series, we look at the work of Reading Partners with DC’s elementary schools, a successful partnership due to the combined effort of the community-based organization working with teachers, parents, administrators and students.

The first grade student had just traced the letter ‘C’ on the whiteboard. Together, we were coming up with words that start with C: cookies, can, cat.  We brainstormed a few more, and then he drew a picture of a cat on the back of his letter card.  

“C!  Cat!  C-c-c.  COOL!” he exclaimed, giggling.  

By the time his mom appeared at the door to pick him up from our weekly tutoring session, he had chosen a new book to keep at home, and she beamed at the sight of him eagerly flipping through the pages. As she gathered her son’s jacket, bag and lunchbox, our tutor shared how great a job her son had done reading and identifying rhyming words.

Just a few months ago, afternoon tutoring sessions like this one were just a vision for Bancroft Elementary, a bilingual school in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC. Under the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has designated Bancroft as a Focus School, meaning it is a school in need of targeted support to address large achievement gaps between students.

Earlier this year, Bancroft approached Reading Partners hoping to begin a partnership. We traditionally establish a reading center in our partner schools and provide tutoring throughout the school day, and we were eager to bring our proven program to Bancroft, but there was one problem: there wasn’t any space available for our reading center. At a school that has been consistently over-enrolled, there was simply no unused space where we could set up and begin tutoring.

Afterschool time offered a solution. Using a mobile storage closet for our materials and the help of one very kind teacher, we are now able to transform her classroom into a reading center each day at 3:30pm for the students after school.


At Bancroft, we have become part of a thriving afterschool community that also includes drama club, DC SCORES, AALEAD, and Girls on the Run.  

Our afterschool partnership with Bancroft works because the school personnel value the contribution our one-on-one literacy tutoring brings to their students’ lives. Teachers go out of their way to refer students who could benefit from our work and help us track down permission slips. The office staff help us communicate with families and keep track of students. Our student’s families love to see the learning progress and increased confidence of their children when they pick them up after school. Community volunteers, including high school students, dedicate time each week to work one-on-one with students after school. Our AmeriCorps site coordinator who runs the center each day works long hours to make sure our tutors are well-trained and supported and students are making progress.  


On average, Reading Partners’ students receive approximately two tutoring sessions per week and spend 28 weeks in the program. With attention like this, the first grader we worked with that day is expected to gain the equivalent of approximately 1.6 months of additional growth in reading proficiency this year in our program. Last year in DC, 93% of our students increased their monthly rates of literacy learning.  Additionally, 82% of our students narrowed their literacy gap with their peers who read at grade level.  

These numbers may not mean much to a small and growing, bubbly first grader who is working on matching letters with their sounds. But any parent, teacher, or administrator at our schools will tell you, it truly does take a village, and the afterschool hours are when the heart of that village comes alive with activity.

DCAYA extends a big thank you to this week's blog authors, Karen Gardner, Executive Director, and Rebecca Schmidt, Program Manager, at Reading Partners in DC. Reading Partners works with schools to provide one-on-one literacy tutoring to students who are reading below grade level. Working with community volunteers, they set up a reading center in each school and tutor between 40 and 70 students on site throughout the school year, providing 2-3 sessions a week to each student. For more information on how the program works, the significant progress Reading Partners students have made, and their impact in DC, please visit their website.

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