UWM’s School of Education has been working with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee for ten years on the Milwaukee Community Literacy Program-SPARK (MCLP-SPARK) project. This program recruits tutors to work one-on-one with kindergarten to third-grade students in MPS elementary schools. The students commit to tutor kindergarten through 3rd grade students in 11 predominately low-income and minority elementary schools.
SOE’s Rob Longwell-Grice, senior adviser, and the staff in the Office of Student Services, helps to recruit the tutors, who are paid for their work. Currently, 90 tutors, primarily UWM students including many education majors, are working at selected schools.
Ruth Short, an associate professor of education specializing in early literacy helps train tutors and monitors the program.
Curtis Jones, senior scientist in the SOE’s office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education, and his colleagues are evaluating the impact of the tutoring.
The results so far are very positive. The first two-year evaluation of the program showed that students in the MCLP-SPARK program improved their reading skills significantly, compared to other students. Initial results for the second two-year cohort confirm that trend. A secondary benefit is that students, who were not education majors originally, have switched to education as a result of their work with SPARK. Education majors also find their SPARK experience helpful in classes.
“We truly love having UWM students as SPARK tutors,” says Pat Marcus, director of program development in early childhood education for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
“SPARK is doing a great job of helping struggling readers in MPS,” says Longwell-Grice. Students are recruited and trained over the summer, and receive follow-up training during the year.
The project is funded through the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, AmeriCorps and other sources.
The tutors work with a reading enrichment program that includes multicultural books and follows a set process, including an emphasis on vocabulary “cool words.”
Each school has a site manager, who is a licensed teacher, to supervise the tutors. . A parent partner also works with each student’s family to bridge the gap between home and school, and help parents incorporate more reading activities in their lives.
Through this partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, UWM has provided tutoring for approximately 2,500 students.
Education majors also find their SPARK experience helpful in classes.
“I can tell you,” says Short, “that we have some really great tutors. I can always tell which of my students either were or are tutors in SPARK. They get such a wonderful experience and it really helps them do better in their coursework.”
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