Central office administrators from Jefferson City Public Schools were trained last week to become reading tutors, and the district is hoping many more people do the same to help fifth- and sixth-graders improve their reading skills.
The Adult Basic Literacy Education program provides tutoring to people at least 16 years old who are not in school. The program operates out of the same JCPS-hosted office that provides other adult education programs such as high school equivalency test preparation and English Language Acquisition classes, but ABLE also has offered tutors for select JCPS sixth-graders for the past nine years.
JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the district would like to expand that program beyond the 30 students per year it helps now to at least 150 students in fifth and sixth grades.
The district's long-term goal is to have all students reading at or above their grade level or otherwise attaining individual educational goals if on a specialized plan.
JCPS has taken a number of steps in recent months toward trying to achieve that goal — creating expectations that all teachers and building administrators take part in promoting literacy, hiring more reading interventionists, and increasing the number of lab classrooms where teachers can see the model of literacy teaching the district prefers.
Linthacum said the ABLE middle school tutoring program has seen results — improving the reading levels of 268 of the 270 students who've gotten one-on-one attention, he said — and he'd like the district to expand the program to help even more students.
Doing that, though, will require having as many more adult tutors, and central office administrators set the example Tuesday by getting ABLE tutor training from Donna Johnson.
"We're going to hope you go out and recruit people," Johnson said.
She said a commitment to tutor does not require that much in itself on the part of the adult — it's one hour a week with one student, and the schedule is flexible to accommodate things like vacations and appointments. There's one training session in September and another in January each year, and prep time for each hour of work with a student probably takes no more than a few minutes, she added.
ABLE would prefer prospective tutors to start at the beginning or middle of a year, but people can sign up by calling 573-636-5558 at any time of year, Johnson said.
This is enough to make a significant difference in students' outlook on reading and to give them the motivation to work at it, she explained.
She said middle school-age students with reading difficulty issues in particular have "compensated" for years and are more likely to have tried to cover their lower-than-average reading skills by acting out in class: "You're going to cause trouble because you don't want anybody else to know."
Linthacum said success of expanded tutoring opportunities for students will be measured in several ways, including improved iReady (reading assessment) scores, better test scores and improved student behaviors.
ABLE provides the materials for tutors, and students' specific needs will have already been identified. Johnson went over techniques Tuesday on how to work with students to focus on fluency, word recognition, vocabulary, context clues and comprehension before, during and after they read from fiction or non-fiction passages.
ABLE's board of directors President Karlene Diekroeger said many tutoring students are boys, and ABLE would be glad to get more applications from men.