When COVID-19 interrupted the rollout of Get Troup Reading’s new READ-LEARN-GROW literacy volunteer initiative, the Get Georgia Reading Campaign community’s Success in School Committee quickly pivoted to restructure the program to comply with COVID-19 guidelines while still providing students with crucial supplemental reading support.
READ-LEARN-GROW was originally conceived as an in-person program for first grade classrooms, and the launch was delayed by school closures in March and the cancellation of summer learning programs. Further uncertainty arose with the new hybrid schedule and the Troup County School System (TCSS) leaders discontinued volunteering in schools this year.
“While the plan for READ-LEARN-GROW called for volunteers working with students at the schools, we recognize that school leaders had to make tough decisions to protect the health of students, teachers, and parents,” said Kim Myers, Get Troup Reading executive director. “Thankfully, the Success in School Committee was determined to make the program work despite COVID-19-related challenges.”
Nicole Kennedy, chair of Get Troup Reading’s Success in School Committee and Title I parent and family engagement coordinator for TCSS, collaborated with TCSS staff members to transition to a virtual platform for the READ-LEARN-GROW program that was piloted in July 2020.
“It never occurred to us to abandon this program,” said Kennedy. “We all agreed that the need to reach struggling first graders and prevent them from falling further behind was greater than ever.”
“We recognize the value of volunteer literacy tutors,” added Christa Perry, coordinator of elementary education at TCSS. “We collaborated as a team to make the adjustments needed to achieve our original goals.”
Kennedy recruited volunteers, held a virtual training, and matched tutors with students from four Title I schools. The next step was ensuring that families had the necessary technology to meet via the online video conferencing platform. The program called for parents to stay within earshot of the students during tutoring sessions to help keep the children’s attention and answer questions that might arise.
“As expected, we encountered challenges along the way, including blocked email accounts, restrictions on Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi issues,” said TCSS Instructional Technologist Pam Murphy. “We worked together to resolve the issues and used the experience to help the district’s technology department prepare for virtual learning in the fall.”
Parents attending the sessions proved to be an unexpected bonus. While students and tutors formed positive relationships, parents and tutors also connected in productive ways. During the pilot program’s evaluation, one parent said, “I enjoyed watching the tutor help my child. Now I know what I need to do to help him, too. The tutor gave me good ideas.”
Tutors shared school information with parents, and parents got to see examples of best practices such as interactive read aloud, phonemic awareness strategies, and decoding skills that they can use to help their children at home.
Building on the pilot program’s success, Get Troup Reading’s Success in School Committee initiated READ-LEARN-GROW this fall along with a new program for grades 3 – 5 called 345 Thrive! The program combines tutoring and mentoring for older elementary students. Volunteers check in with students twice a week to strengthen and reinforce the work of teachers in the classroom.
With 24% of the total enrollment of TCSS learning remotely, the READ-LEARN-GROW and 345 Thrive! programs provide additional support and learning sessions for elementary school students who get two hours of daily face-to-face instruction with teachers in a virtual environment.
“The two extra 30-minute segments provided through 345 Thrive! serve as valuable time for the students engaging with another adult,” said Myers. “Virtual learning will remain a part of the educational landscape even when the pandemic is over, so we’re all doing our part to make this ever-growing learning format a success.”
READ-LEARN-GROW and 345 Thrive! will evolve to meet students’ needs—no matter where they are.