Two Together after School: A Literacy Tutoring Project

Article excerpt

Abstract

Research shows that after-school programs with structured literacy components can contribute positively to children's success in school, improvement in their reading and also in general social skills, and that successful programs involve partnerships with the community and continually expanding outreach to parents and caregivers. This program report describes just such an after-school and summer enrichment program, with the aim of identifying which aspects of the program are replicable, the specific markers of its success, and perhaps even determine further ways of measuring that success.

Key words: collaborative after-school programs, literacy achievement, one-onone tutoring, America Reads tutors

Introduction

The ten-year-old fourth grader reads aloud to her college tutor from a large book of pictures and texts about the aftermath of 9/11. She paraphrases some of what she has read and types it into the computer. She does this several times, then pauses to add a poem of her own and to format her new story on the computer, varying line lengths and typeface. When I stop to read what she has written, she enthusiastically leads me to her photograph on a nearby wall and to further samples of her work: a paragraph about her mother who works at a nearby medical center and also at Wal-Mart, a continuation of a story she read a week or so ago, and a short poem about colors.

This is the site of Two Together, Inc., a highly regarded after-school literacy project in the South End of Albany, New York. I am struck by the interest and enthusiasm of the students, the cheerfulness of the space, and the children's eagerness to see their tutors. The activity space is filled with books and computers, the walls decorated with murals, photographs of the children, and samples of their work, as well as evidence of current special projects. I know this project's reputation in the school it serves and in the community and wanted to take a closer look.

Two Together is an after-school literacy program that has been operating in a high-need community in Albany, New York since 1997. Modeled on a program developed in Manhattan by Dorothy Silverman in 1977, the Albany project was organized by Rena Button, the program's first president, with the help of a grant from Albany philanthropist Morris Silverman. Button and her board brought together the institutions that today are partners in the project: the Giffen Memorial Elementary School, the College of St. Rose, the YMCA, and Two Together. Two Together's mission is "to strengthen children's social, cultural, and intellectual growth by improving their reading skills, while at the same time ensuring that enjoyment is a fundamental part of that growth." The heart of the program is the one-to-one relationship between a caring tutor and a child. At the same time, the program has always been about outreach. An independent segment of the local YMCA's after-school network, the Two Together project makes good use of community resources and actively works to involve parents and caregivers of the children in the program. It is this combination of literacy tutoring and outreach that is a special feature of this program. I wanted to examine this interaction to see what aspects of the program were replicable and perhaps even determine further ways of measuring its success.

Objectives

As a longtime member of the larger educational community, I came to this project both as an advocate and, to use Knapp's term (1995), a "constructive skeptic." My major objective was to provide a detailed description of the project and to examine the component parts of the program to see how these parts interacted to contribute to student improvement in reading ability. Knowing that the board of Two Together was interested in expanding the project to other schools, I was particularly interested to see if it was possible to identify those aspects of the program essential to the successful replication of the project. …