Published on May 20, 2015 in The Vindicator (Link)
By JOHN VEAUTHIER
It’s a typical Monday afternoon at Harding Elementary School – except in the cafetorium. The room is normally empty, but today there are pairs of students sporadically seated at the various tables.
In a far corner, Joe Mahoney listens while second-grader Diamonique Washington reads from the book, “Rebel Soup.”
“This is like the best book, I’ve ever read – of all my books at home,” said Washington.
To her, Mahoney is more than a student at Youngstown State University and more than a reading tutor.
“He’s my friend,” said Washington.
The two are participating in Project PASS, a program that pairs YSU students and second-graders in Youngstown City schools. The goal is to increase the number of students who pass the state-mandated Third Grade Reading Guarantee testing.
Last year, the statewide passing rate was 95.8 percent. The passing rate was 87.95 percent in Youngstown’s six traditional elementary schools and 79.42 percent in the city’s six charter schools. This means means the 12 percent of city schools students and 21 percent of charter school students didn’t pass the test.
This is where Project PASS, comes in.
“(It) stands for Penguin Assistants for Student Success,” said Mary Lou DiPillo, associate dean of the Beeghly College of Education. “We thought that if we worked with these students the year before, and tried to develop their skills, they would be better prepared to take the test the next year.”
With the help of President Jim Tressel, YSU secured a $450,000 grant for the program from Ohio Department of Education.
The YSU tutors receive a $1,000 scholarship each, if their students pass the test or a $250 scholarship if their students don’t pass, but show improvement.
There is also a research component.
“We work with the Ohio Education Resource Center … collecting data to see what kind of gains these second graders will have when they are in third grade and will take their state test.”
The project developed lightning fast.
“We actually talked about it a little bit in November right before the students went on break,” said DiPillo. “We called them in and said, ‘Hey, this looks like this might happen.’ We had our students in to do training, we hired (graduate assistants) over the break … the money came the first week of January – and we were movin’.”
Also during the break, DiPillo met with Janet Donofrio, liaison for Youngstown City Schools and hired Kristen Italiano as the Project PASS coordinator.
Together, the three decided to start the tutoring sessions with interactive out-loud reading and writing exercises.
“The tutors are continually being taught different methods and activities to do with the kids,” said Donofrio. “They have one-hour seminars on a regular basis, where the professors at YSU are giving them more things to do so they can keep expanding what they know.”
At the moment Project PASS is only in the city’s six elementary public schools.
“The theory of the grant is that every child will receive a tutor. Right now, we have placed about 250,” said Italiano. “They are working two hours a week with the same student, so we’re really pleased with the numbers.”
The teachers, administrators and students are pleased, too.
Susan Koulianos, principal at Harding Elementary School, said nearly 95 percent of the school’s second-graders are participating.
“We decided that we wanted to work with those students who were struggling with reading, but we had such an overwhelming response. It’s really been a wonderful project that the kids love,” said Koulianos. “They’ll walk down the hallways and they’ll say, ‘My Project PASS tutor is coming today.’ So, they’re so excited to see them.”
She isn’t the only one who’s noticed.
“Oh my gosh, they love it. They’re whole faces light up when they see their tutor at the door,” said Rita Creed, a second-grade teacher at Harding.
The tutors work with the children when they aren’t in class.
“They’re taking them before school, at lunchtime, maybe during their library time – any time we can squeeze in during the day,” said Kathy Bareth, a second-grade teacher at Harding.
Koulianos says the tutoring goes beyond reading.
“It’s another adult that they can look up to as a friendly face. Someone who supports them, and I think that’s important,” she said.
As for Mahoney, he enjoys his tutoring sessions with Washington, and recommends the program to other YSU students.
“You can give back to the community and you’re helping a lot of people out,” he said.
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