Tutoring begins at Cape Girardeau schools

Friday, September 28, 2007
Rony Buford leaned his head back on his chair while Amanda Daniels watched the teacher work at the board during the after-school tutoring program for reading Wednesday at Jefferson Elementary School. These third- and fourth-graders meet after school Mondays and Wednesdays until 5 p.m., extending their school day into the evening. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Barbara Kohlfeld thinks tutoring can have the law of diminishing returns.

"Just because there is more and more and more doesn't mean you are going to get results," the Blanchard Elementary principal said.

That's why when the school's after-school tutoring program starts next week, Kohlfeld plans to do everything she can to make it not seem like school.

High-interest activities are planned, with students selecting their group for an area of study, either pets, sports, restaurants or cooking. Last year the pets group took a field trip to PETCO, the sports group toured the Southeast Missouri State University football stadium, and the restaurant group dined at Bella Italia. When they got back, students wrote about their adventures and used the experience to make connections to literature.

"Tutoring follows a full school day. We don't want it to be something laborious, unexciting, where they won't want to stay," Kohlfeld say.

Nationally there has been a push for longer school days. In Massachusetts, $6.5 million was allocated by Gov. Deval L. Patrick to lengthen the time students spend in school. New York, Connecticut and New Mexico all have proposed similar plans. As No Child Left Behind requirements become more stringent, districts already failing to meet standards are searching for ways to maximize instructional time.

While longer school days have not been approved in Cape Girardeau, tutoring is seen as the key to reaching the most at-risk students.

But for some of those students, concentrating in school from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. can be difficult, parents and teachers acknowledge.

At Blanchard, students are given a break before tutoring begins and can move around during specially planned lessons. Tutoring concludes after 10 weeks so it doesn't become tedious. And the tutoring is not described as part of the normal day -- rather teachers tell the students it is a reward.

At Jefferson Elementary, tutoring began this week. About 80 of the school's 332 students participate. Teachers refer students based on their reading levels and math scores.

Walking through the school, a visitor sees pairs of students huddled over books in the library, sounding out words. A group of students in a classroom concentrates on a math pretest. In a different room, four students sit around a table discussing "Little Penguin's Tale" and filling out a story map. Others write paragraphs about a brave moment they had.

"It's fun. We get to do a lot of cool things like write summaries, and we get to read silly books and funny books," fourth-grader Nicole Dugan said.

Director Janice Frederick said teachers base the tutoring's success on evaluating students' DRA reading levels throughout. Last year, 19 out of 28 first graders moved up at least 3 levels, what principal Mark Cook describes as close to a grade level. In the third grade, it was 13 out of 13. In math, students move from 46 percent mastery on their pretest to 79 percent mastery on their post-test in the third grade.

This correlates partially to the school's performance on the mandated Missouri Assessment Program test. In math, students increased from 17.4 percent proficient to 29.9 percent proficient between 2006 and 2007, qualifying for adequate yearly progress, but missed the target in communication arts.

Cook said he is proud of the staff for their dedication and said they will continue to focus on reading, especially during tutoring.

Across the rest of the district, tutoring at Alma Schrader will begin in the next two weeks for students in danger of being retained under Senate Bill 319, which targets students who are more than one year below their grade level in reading. Eight students are enrolled. Principal Ruth Ann Orr said she has never had to retain a student under the bill.

At Clippard, like Jefferson and Blanchard, funding comes from Title 1 money. Principal Sydney Herbst said she would have liked to add math tutoring, but there were not enough funds. About 20 students participate in tutoring two days a week.

Franklin Elementary gets money from a 21st Century grant for the school's Tiger Initiative after-school program involving 85 students and 7 teachers. In addition to tutoring, focus is split between physical, social and emotional needs. This is the last year of the grant but principal Rhonda Dunham is looking for ways to sustain the program.


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