It goes without saying that innovative solutions to the deep-seated problems surrounding literacy and education in the United States are at a premium.
Reach Incorporated may have one of those ground-breaking solutions. Mark Hecker, a Washington, D.C. social worker, former teacher, and the founder of Reach, is putting his idea to the test, “flipping the script” as he says, on traditional literacy programs.
We’ve all heard of star students tutoring struggling schoolmates — tried and true and certainly effective. But tried and true is not what Hecker is after. His goal is to attack the literacy problem from all angles. And here’s how he does it: Reach Incorporated hires struggling high school students to tutor second and third graders in Washington’s elementary schools. And although it may seem counterintuitive, the early results are promising.
Hecker, a 2011 Echoing Green Fellow, launched his program at D.C.’s Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in September and served 40 students this school year.
He described his organization’s impact by telling this story:
Reach works by bringing together teens like DaJohn who when we met him was among the 87% of D.C. public school students who enter 9th grade reading below grade level, with students like Willie, a rambunctious 2nd grader with a penchant for driving teachers nuts.
Each week, DaJohn spends 2 days training and 2 days tutoring Willie, fortifying his own academic skills through the teaching process. At the same time, Willie is learning to love reading, returning from Winter Break with this Curious George book, and begging me to let him read it with his tutor.
In only six months, DaJohn’s D’s have become B’s and through his skilled teaching, Willie’s fluency and comprehension skills have improved dramatically.
Reach’s creative approach to skills-building not only involves having teachers train the high school students and guide them in preparing lesson plans — a win-win for both the tutors and their students — it gives the tutors addtional self-confidence and feelings of self-worth because they get paid for their work.
The idea grew out of Hecker’s experience working with at risk youth. As a social worker he witnessed the barriers his clients were up against because they lacked high-quality educations. He found that despite the personal progress he made with them, they were spit back into a system that had already written them off.
As Hecker says in his Echoing Green Fellowship biography: “Watching my clients become defeated by this negativity, I knew we needed a system in which all young people are not condemned based on past performance, but held to the same level of expectation as everyone else.”
Reach Incorporated aims to do just that. Hecker’s innovative approach empowers students – tutors and their charges alike. It levels the playing field, and gives them ownership of their learning – after all, isn’t that what educational opportunity is all about?
Photo courtesy of Liz (perspicacious.org) via Flickr
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