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K-12 Education

A Remote Community Takes Shape to Support Detroit’s Struggling Young Readers

“The most valuable aspect of this experience was our relationships we were able to form with our students. The trust they built in us throughout this process was inspiring, and my interactions with all types of students has solidified my initial aspirations to become an educator, a leader, and a problem solver. This remote learning experience has taught me so much, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to adapt to these new circumstances.” —MSU Fellow and BookNook Tutor

How a remote community of trained tutors is supporting Detroit students

For hundreds of Detroit students and a small number of trained tutors and educators that support them, a remote community is taking shape that’s not only moving the needle on raising literacy levels, it’s also a model for developing similar collaborations across the country.

Merging local philanthropy, education technology, active volunteerism, and budding urban educators, a network of organizations have come together to improve the reading skills of students at all learning levels. Supported by The Skillman Foundation and powered by BookNook’s standards-based solution for live reading intervention, three powerful reading initiatives are serving Detroit students. Over the summer, fellows from the Michigan State University College of Education’s Urban Immersion Fellowship supported 100 young readers with twice-weekly live literacy lessons.

In a summer jobs program through Detroit Parks and Recreation, young adults participating in Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT) were also trained to deliver the same rigorous, real-time reading support. And in an ongoing effort to fuel active volunteerism through and beyond the pandemic, Brilliant Detroit recruits volunteers to become trained BookNook reading tutors in high-need neighborhoods.

The real story with this group of remote tutoring initiatives is that they’ve expanded the “who” in “who’s teaching” Detroit kids. The trained tutor demographic has grown to include university students from Michigan State and the University of Michigan, paraprofessionals, and corporate employees from companies like Quicken Loans, in addition to the more familiar retirees volunteering at their local schools.

This flourishing remote community has created opportunities for trained tutors and active volunteers to connect with students. One silver lining from the pandemic is that technology equity and internet access have improved dramatically for Detroit families with school-age kids, through Connected Futures, a coalition of organizations working hard to resolve technological inequities. Student wi-fi access has made tutoring through remote, live reading intervention a possibility for more adults, who are able to make the 40-minute, twice-a-week commitment without leaving their home or workplace.

More paraprofessionals have jumped into becoming trained reading interventionists. Cornerstone Schools are successfully utilizing school support staff to ensure they remain a vital role in their schools and stay connected with students. BookNook has not only become a tool for remediation; it also creates an opportunity for paraprofessionals to check in on the socio-emotional health of students, plus offer relief for their hard-working teachers, who are dealing with the constant demands of distance learning and changing classrooms.

The support could not have come sooner. By mobilizing a full spectrum of capable, trained tutors, this group of organizations with a shared passion for education are providing literacy improvements for Detroit students reading below grade level, making a real and measurable impact and helping them to become lifelong learners.

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