GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Fewer than 50 percent of third graders in Michigan passed the English Language Arts exam during last year’s state assessment tests. With numbers like that, Grand Rapids Public Schools have relied heavily on tutoring programs to help kids with literacy rates and test scores.
The third largest tutoring program in Grand Rapids announced they are shutting down their literacy tutoring program at the end of the school year. United Way, which set up Schools of Hope, said the community needs those volunteers in a different subject area. They say there is an overabundance of literacy programs and not enough help in math and science.
Schools of Hope has more than 250 volunteers in 14 schools that work one-on-one with first through third grade students. GRPS is exploring different options to streamline reading help for their students.
“I think what’s more notable, especially around literacy, is the new third grade reading law that says students not proficient in reading by the third grade, they could automatically be held back,” said John Helmholdt, the executive director of communications and external affairs for GRPS.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last October, goes into effect in the next couple of years, so the pressure is on for GRPS to make sure their kids are on track to pass. That’s where tutoring programs come in, Helmholdt said, Adding how important the programs are to the students.
The shutdown of the Schools of Hope program is not an indication that literacy is less important, "it’s just saying that there are others that are working in that area in our community and that there was a clear gap in science and math,” said Ellen Carpenter of United Way.
According to GRPS, there is a gap in performance in seventh grade science and eighth grade math, and that’s where United Way will shift its tutoring efforts.
“So this is a challenge, if you will, and has turned into a really great opportunity,” said Helmholdt.
A survey the Literacy Center of West Michigan did in conjunction with GRPS found that current literacy tutoring programs are big enough to fill in the gaps left behind by the loss of Schools of Hope volunteers. “They are finishing up an audit or scan of all the organizations doing work in our schools around literacy,” said Helmholdt. “Then we are assessing, okay, how are they being funded? Is the district paying for it? Is it a nonprofit paying for it? Is it a government entity, and what are they doing and does it align with our academic plans?”
The survey results are still pending as a deeper look is given to which organizations can take on more volunteers and how the schools can partner with them.
A lot of volunteers from Schools of Hope don’t want their tutoring days to end. Many volunteers tutor multiple children and take hours out of their week to help children read, write and spell.
United Way is hoping to make an announcement in the coming weeks about where tutors can go if they want to continue tutoring. GRPS plans to release the results from the survey in the tutoring programs by the end of the school year as well.