For years, some schools in the Racine Unified School District have struggled to improve their students' reading scores.
Students without adequate reading skills are less likely to graduate from high school, and when children don’t graduate, that impacts the community.
Jim Beere, owner of Pioneer Products, is the chairman of tutoring program called Schools of Hope. The program is a partnership between the United Way of Racine County, the Racine Unified School District and the business community. He got involved with the program because he recognized that when students don’t graduate, the community's workforce suffers, which often prevents companies from coming into the community, which in turn limits the number of available jobs.
The program will be piloted in two schools – Olympia Brown Elementary in Caledonia and Wadewitz Elementary in Racine – this fall.
“This has been a long time coming and with the support we have from Superintendent Ann Laing, the teachers and principals; it’s giving us a new perspective and we’re realizing how much they want this to work,” Beere said.
Retired teachers and college students are volunteering to tutor, and Beere hopes to get a number of businesses to work with him on the project.
“The business community has often been critical of Racine Unified, but we’re finding that they are supportive of this project,” Beere said. “And a number of businesses had wanted to help, but we hadn’t found an effective way to do it.”
Beere said the program is gathering steam and when he tells people that the program is focused on reading, their eyes light up, he said. “And they ask, where do I sign up?”
How the Schools of Hope program works
Jessica Safransky coordinates the Schools of Hope program through United Way of Racine County and she describes the program as “a catalytic event for change and it involves United Way volunteers that wanted to look at improving reading scores for children.”
“In each of those school districts the program has been very successful,” she said.
The goal of the program is simple: to improve children’s reading scores by pairing tutors with children.
“We know that when we work with students at a younger age the chances of students reading at a level of proficient or advanced levels is higher,” Safransky said. “And when children are reading at a basic or minimal level, they can get very frustrated with reading. If you catch that before it progresses into frustration and building their confidence, then they do better in all subject areas in school.”
How the Schools of Hope program works
The tutors, members of the business community and community at-large, will work with students in the first, second and third grades for one hour a week. The tutors will be trained to help children with their reading and fluency in a non-threatening way.
“This is a very real, very simple prescribed thing people can do to help kids,” Safransky said. “It’s not a mentoring program, it’s tutoring. People will come into the classroom, they’ll have everything they need, and then they can go about their business.”
The pilot program will be held throughout the year and then the results will be evaluated.
What the program does for schools
Joan Kuehl, principal at Olympia Brown Elementary, said she and her staff are excited about the program.
“We have a lot of students who are reading at their grade level and doing just fine, but some of our students struggle,” she said. “We know that if we get them reading at grade level by the third grade, they won’t struggle in the other subject areas.”
The program also addresses a broader issue: how Racine Unified Schools are perceived in the community.
One of the observations Kuehl made fairly early on in her tenure as principal at Olympia Brown Elementary was that there were a number of taxpayers who want the best for kids, but for one reason or another they didn’t have a great relationship with the staff at the schools.
“When stakeholders come together with schools, we can resolve issues and I think this program will allow those of us who work in the schools to build relationships with the business community,” Kuehl said.