Curry Students, Charlottesville Schools Gain from McGuffey's New School-Based Program

Since 1946 the University of Virginia’s McGuffey Reading Center, the oldest continuously running University-based reading center in the country, has been a diagnostic and tutoring resource for elementary-aged students in the Charlottesville community. 

For years, McGuffey has served Charlottesville elementary school students by offering a fall and spring after school tutoring practicum at the University for 25 students whose parents are either concerned with their pace of growth or feel that they need the challenge of an enrichment program. The program pairs first through seventh graders with a Masters of Teaching student tutor. Every year McGuffey also offers a summer tutoring program serving 45-50 kids at risk for falling behind and a separate two-week enrichment camp.

In addition to these programs, this spring McGuffey partnered with two Charlottesville Elementary Schools to implement school-based tutoring programs in which U.Va. students travel to local elementary schools to work with children. One program targets 40 first through fourth grade students in Venable Elementary School and the other targets 15 English language learning students at Greenbrier Elementary School. 

“We felt like it was a natural partnership waiting to happen,” said Erin Kershner, principal of Venable Elementary School.  “A group of pre-service teachers needing ongoing experience teaching and observing reading development right in the backyard of an elementary school with students who would benefit from reading with an adult each week.”

The school-based tutoring programs builds on the research based model for intervention “Book Buddies” to help students who are just below testing benchmarks.

“The students selected for the program needed to be just on the cusp of being on grade level in reading, meaning that they did not necessarily qualify for intensive reading support from our reading specialist, but could use a little extra boost,” explained Kershner. “We also selected students who might thrive in a relationship with a college student and gain even greater connectedness to school and their learning.”

“McGuffey comes into schools to reach more kids then the school can on its own,” added Tisha Hayes, director of the McGuffey Reading Center. “This maximizes intervention for kids, while also helping the school budget.” 

The students chosen for this program receive highly supervised and individualized 1-on-1 tutoring sessions with U.Va. student tutors twice a week for 45-60 minutes. The tutors include work study students participating through the American Reads program and Curry School students in the Reading Education and Elementary Education programs.

“I’ve really loved having the opportunity to work with students in the Charlottesville public schools,” said Sarah Weisz, an Elementary Education student who tutors a first grade student at the Venable School. “I’ve gained valuable experience through tutoring which will help my professional development. I’m more confident going into my student teaching semester knowing that I can target and differentiate reading instruction for a variety of students at different reading stages.”

Weisz and other tutors have already seen the effect that the McGuffey program has had on their students.

“The tutoring program at Venable has significantly impacted the students,” Weisz said. “I see, at least with my student, how this one-on-one work has really improved his reading and his confidence.”

“The students are so attentive,” added Moira Lennon, an Elementary Education student also assigned to tutor at the Venable School. “Relationships are built between the tutor and the student, and it allows comfortable discussion and discovery involving new reading strategies and word knowledge.”

“I’ve personally seen my own students greatly improve in a short period of time. As soon as they sit down at the beginning of the semester, they quickly realize what these lessons are about - every single session is specifically tailored to the student. They get to read books about topics they enjoy. They get assigned vocabulary that interests them. They get to use hands-on materials to record their own progress. Everything we do at McGuffey is to help the child succeed both at the classroom level and at the individual level.”

Overall, the program has been a positive experience for both the tutors and the Charlottesville Elementary School students.

“I would say we have a more confident, excited group of readers at each grade level as a result of this program,” said Kershner.

Hayes agreed, adding, “With twice a week individualized tutoring these students identified for the tutoring program are by in large not just meeting, but exceeding the benchmarks set for them.”

By Ashley Dembeck