DExecuting the Plan
Planning The Program
The mayor’s office convenes a meeting of stakeholders six to nine months in advance of the intended program launch to determine: 1) the goals of the program; 2) the schools or students with the greatest need for the program; and 3) a partner organization to execute the program.3 Stakeholders to bring to the table include:
- District administrators, reading specialists, principals, and teachers from the public school system or after school program directors and staff
- Staff from community organizations and nonprofits that have the capacity to manage the program (especially those already working in the schools)
- Parents and guardians of K-3 students
- Education specialists from higher education institutions
- Local foundations and businesses concerned with education
Some key considerations in selecting program partners are:
- All program partners, including the city, nonprofit partner, and school district, must have shared goals. Similarly, all program partners should align on which student population is in greatest need and can most benefit from this individualized support; this will allow the city to produce the largest impact.
- It is important to have a well-connected program partner that has a strong reputation in the community to help with the credibility, recruitment, and funding of the initiative. This partner should also have staff committed to the literacy initiative mission, a willingness to adapt the program to changing external pressures, and the capacity for volunteer recruitment and support.
- In addition to having a good program manager, to ensure effective training and volunteer support, the initiative should include a staff member or person closely associated with the program who has a literacy background.
Once the program goals, partner organization(s), and potential host schools are identified, the mayor’s office and partner organization(s) should sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the school district and selected host schools outlining the roles of each partner. These roles should include:
- Provide leadership for the initiative
- Meet regularly (e.g., monthly) with partner organization(s) to assist with program troubleshooting
- Convene regular (e.g., quarterly) stakeholder meetings to analyze impact
- In collaboration with schools and experts, develop a reading tutoring curriculum that aligns with school curricula and reading pedagogy (see Resources section for examples of widely available curricula)
- Recruit, train, and supervise volunteers
- Coordinate pre/post assessment of students’ reading levels
- Track metrics of engagement (e.g., student and volunteer participation levels, program activities)
- Work with school district to track and report the required impact metrics
School district and host schools or after school programs:
- Provide consistent staff support at both the school and district level to ensure the development and implementation of an impactful curriculum
- Identify appropriate students for tutors to work with (the highest-need students likely need to work with an expert such as a reading specialist, but most other students will benefit from a volunteer-based program)
- Conduct pre/post assessment of student reading scores and reading levels (see the Resources section for examples of high-quality measurement tools)
- Facilitate permission from and involvement of parents and guardians
- Secure teacher and administrator support for program
- Provide space and additional curriculum and training resources, as needed
Once a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with all partners, the planning process should start as soon as possible to allow time to build teacher buy-in, select the target students, obtain parent/guardian permission slips, and select and adapt the curriculum before the program can begin. To ensure a timely program launch, the following timeline is recommended:
Four to five months before launch (e.g., April – May):
- Participating teachers and students identified
- Student participation list developed
- Parents and guardians contacted
- Volunteer recruitment begins
Two to three months before launch (e.g., June – August):
- Tutoring curriculum finalized and customized
- Volunteer recruitment completed
- Training curriculum finalized
Month of the launch (e.g., September):
- Volunteer training begins
- Pre-assessment of current reading levels begins
- Stakeholders reconvene to discuss pre-assessment results and implications
- Student participation list finalized
- Parents and guardians are convened to explain structure and goals of Third Grade Reads and how they can help (see the Engaging Volunteers section below)
- Permission slips for students to participate in the program are signed and returned
During implementation (e.g., October – May):
- Tutoring takes place (see the Engaging Volunteers section below)
- Program assessed and partnership considered for renewal for the following year (e.g., in April/May)
- Student selection begins for following year (if the program will continue)
After the first year of implementation (e.g., June):
- Post-assessment completed
- Volunteer appreciation
Developing The Curriculum
To ensure that all participating students receive quality and impactful tutoring, the mayor’s office and lead partner should align on a standardized tutoring curriculum that fits the school district’s overall strategy to boost reading achievement. This curriculum should guide all volunteer-student interactions and provide the basis of all support the tutors provide to students. While there are several tutoring curriculums available, according to the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, reading instruction should emphasize determining meaning from printed materials through reading, the phonological and morphological structure of words (the sounds and sub-units of language that constitute words), the orthographic (writing) system, the relationship between spelling and sounds, and provide students numerous chances to practice reading and writing. Tutors should spend at least two hours a week with students across multiple sessions. (For examples of tested, research-based curricula, see the Resources section.)
Volunteers should be individuals who are literate in English, able to follow a regular schedule that enables them to spend at least two hours a week across multiple sessions with students during program hours, and comfortable working with children. Tutors may come from organizations such as faith-based congregations, civic organizations, higher education institutions or secondary schools, senior service programs, parents and guardians of children in the school, or the local community. All tutors, regardless of source, should receive background checks prior to contact with students, in line with local and state laws and regulations.
Volunteers must complete pre-service training and commit to participating in ongoing support. Volunteers should be scheduled to provide one-on-one tutoring for two sessions of one hour each per week throughout the academic year. Ideally the same tutor should work with a child twice a week, but if tutors are unable to volunteer more than one day a week, they can work with multiple children during that day with a different tutor working with these children a second day. Tutors should follow the curriculum selected for the initiative and direct questions and concerns to a designated individual (such as a teacher, program partner staff person, or reading expert)
Volunteer orientation and training: Tutors should receive a minimum of eight hours of pre-service training and twelve hours of ongoing training. This training should cover logistics, expectations, and information regarding how to implement the selected curriculum. Each tutor should receive a volunteer manual.
Tutoring: After volunteers have been properly screened, background checked, and trained, they are ready to interact with students. Students in need of tutoring should be placed in a special setting, separate from their peers, to facilitate one-on-one interaction with their assigned tutor during the school day or before or after school. In accordance with the developed curriculum, volunteers provide at least two hours of reading tutoring per child per week (more than one tutor can work with a child) in high-need elementary schools.
Best practice, basic reading tutoring activities include:
- Encouraging students to sound out unfamiliar words,
- Giving students opportunities to write down letters and words after they learn them,
- Using those skills to begin writing sentences, and
- Helping students do independent daily reading of texts that interest them.
Ongoing volunteer supervision and support: Volunteers should have clarity about who to contact for matters related to their participation and tutoring. Communication should be encouraged. Volunteers should also have access to a simple system that helps them track their hours with each student; for example, by logging them online or at the tutoring site. Ongoing support and feedback should be provided to volunteer tutors, as this is critical to program success and volunteer commitment and motivation. This support should include periodic opportunities for additional volunteer training of at least 12 hours per year.
Examples of possible training topics include advice on managing students’ behavior, how to effectively customize curriculums to meet student needs, and how to build trust with students. These topics should help make tutors more comfortable and effective in their roles, while ensuring that students are receiving the support they need to excel. Tutors should receive information regarding the progress of the students they tutor. Tutors also benefit from opportunities for interaction with other tutors; this will allow them to share strategies and build a strong community.
Engaging Parents and Guardians
To build and sustain support for Third Grade Reads from parents and guardians, they should be convened early in the process and be given regular updates on their child’s progress. At the initial convening, the structure and goals of Third Grade Reads should be explained in detail (e.g., students will meet with tutors twice a week for one hour) with particular emphasis on how parents and guardians can help (e.g., parents and guardians will be given practice worksheets or other activities to help facilitate their involvement). As the most impactful results are seen when parents and guardians at home reinforce lessons their children have learned in school, parents and guardians are key resources in helping students read at grade level.
Fundraising For Third Grade Reads
Third Grade Reads is a compelling funding opportunity for businesses, foundations, and individual donors that have a commitment to youth and education in your city. Once you identify a list of possible funders, you can approach them in person or by phone, email, or letter. In all cases, the mayor’s office or nonprofit partner(s) will want to develop a short proposal that describes the opportunity for support and how the funds will be used.
Elements of a typical proposal include:
- Description of Third Grade Reads, including personnel/program management, volunteer tutor recruitment, training and recognition, and curriculum/tutoring resources
- Information on how this initiative would positively impact the community (e.g., impact goals and the value of increasing reading level proficiency on long-term student achievement)
- Amount of funding requested, proposed breakdown of grant(s) and how those funds would be used (e.g., paying for supplies or providing a stipend to the lead volunteer tutors)
- Metrics that would be collected to assess progress
- Information on Cities of Service (this is especially helpful for national funders)
- Description of how the donor will be recognized (e.g., putting logos on printed materials or your city’s service website, verbal thanks in training sessions, etc.)
Recognizing and Thanking Volunteers
Volunteer recognition is an effective recruitment and retention tool. Research by the Points of Light Institute reveals that recognition not only motivates volunteers, but it also promotes public awareness in local communities. To recognize the volunteer tutors, students who benefited from the program can give hand-written thank you letters to their tutors expressing their gratitude and memories of the time the pairs spent together. Additionally, to highlight the effectiveness of the Third Grade Reads effort, the mayor may host an appreciation event at City Hall or a local elementary school where both the tutors and students are recognized and presented with certificates signed by the mayor commemorating the students’ progress and the volunteer service of the tutors.