NC Education Corps Tutors Tackle Learning Recovery and Build Teacher Pool
Tutors Alexis Gordon and Liz Hasty roam the corridors of South Johnson Primary School in the county of Scotland, collecting pupils from their classrooms to give them specialist reading lessons in small groups.
They aim to help students who have fallen behind in mastering the building blocks of reading, such as learning the sounds of letters.
“So if I say, ‘Peter Piper picked a pickled pepper spike,’ what sound do you hear over and over again?” Gordon asks a group of second graders. Together, they sound: “puh puh puh”.
Gordon is a junior at St. Andrews University majoring in education. As a member of the NC Education Corps, she is also a part-time employee of South Johnson Elementary in the county of Scotland.
“When you have a child who comes in the first day and can’t tell you what the letter ‘A’ is, and then two weeks later he knows the letter, knows the sound, you’re like, ‘Ah, pat the back. I did something,” Gordon said.
Joining the North Carolina Education Corps was a win-win situation for her. She gains valuable teaching experience while being paid $15 an hour. It is also a great victory for his students.
“With COVID and everything, there are so many students who are late, [the school] I just needed help,” Gordon said.
NC Education Corps uses federal COVID relief funds to tackle pandemic-era issues
Two of the big buzzwords in education lately are “loss of learning” and “shortage of teachers”. The NC Education Corps has the potential to help solve both of these problems.
“At the most basic level, our corps members work in schools to extend the reach of teachers so they can provide literacy support to students,” said the nonprofit’s executive director. lucrative, John-Paul Smith.
The NC Education Corps began in 2020, with support from the State Board of Education and Governor Roy Cooper’s office. Its board and advisors include big names, including current and former legislators, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and former Governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.
Its start-up funding came from private funders like the SECU Foundation and the CD Spangler Foundation. The General Assembly recently invested funds in the state budget to help it grow.
“We’re still in start-up mode,” Smith said. “We are grateful to have received the state appropriation of $13.5 million so that we can expand our services.”
The General Assembly allocated the money as a one-time payment using federal education relief funds to support the Corps’ infrastructure for recruiting and training tutors. Schools employ and pay tutors directly, often from their own federal relief funds.
Smith says the Corps probably wouldn’t have started without the pandemic.
“It created this window of opportunity with additional federal funds to advance something that we’ve known we’ve needed for a long time,” Smith said.
Even before the pandemic, less than half of North Carolina fourth-graders were fluent in reading, Smith said, based on their scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“COVID has made the situation worse,” he said.
High-dose tutoring is the reading intervention of choice
“What we know is personalized instruction, where tutors or teachers sit with students, individually or in small groups, is the way to accelerate learning and recover from that unfinished learning” , Smith said.
He calls this model “high-dose tutoring.” Education to research supports the use of this intensive tutoring as an effective reading intervention in the early years.
Tutors regularly work with students in 30-45 minute sessions, three times a week. Tutors receive five days of phonetics training and use test data to identify where students need help. It’s different from just reading with a student because it’s focused.
“Tutoring is the intervention of choice for people who can afford it,” said Marlow Artis, director of school partnerships for the NC Education Corps.
Artis previously held administrative positions at Cumberland County Schools, Sampson County Schools, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
He remembers often hearing parents from municipal schools in Chapel-Hill Carrboro, one of the wealthiest school districts in the state, ask for tutors for their children. The school district also typically uses hundreds of UNC-Chapel Hill students as volunteers.
” This is what we do. It doesn’t matter what your zip code is. It doesn’t matter where you live,” Artis said. “If your school system is part of the North Carolina Education Corps, we connect you with this high-impact tutor.”
Ultimately, the goal is for students who receive tutoring from NC Education Corps to improve their reading and see measurable gains. The Friday Institute at NC State University and the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University are monitoring the program and will evaluate its effectiveness.
NC Education Corps is actively recruiting and hopes to inspire new teachers
The NC Education Corps currently has nearly 200 members in 23 school districts, but they continue to recruit up to 250 members this semester and hope to recruit up to 1,000 tutors by the 2023-2024 school year.
As the jobs are part-time, they usually recruit students, volunteers already working in the schools and retired teachers.
In the county of Scotland, the NC Education Corps has partnered with the education program at St. Andrews University to recruit tutors like Gordon. Smith says the Corps aims to partner with the UNC system and North Carolina community colleges to recruit more students as tutors.
Retired music teacher Liz Hasty works alongside Alexis Gordon and says she enjoys spending time with students at the other end of their teaching journey.
“It’s a great training ground for people who might want to be a teacher because you have small groups,” Hasty said. “You can really see the impact you have on these kids when you see their growth.”
Gordon says by word of mouth, a few friends joined the Corps, including one who changed his career goals because of it.
“She’s actually now a double major as an education major,” Gordon said.
Last year, nine recent Corps members were hired by schools full-time to fill vacant positions.
While NC Education Corps’ main goal is to help kids catch up, their staff says it’s an added bonus if they can bring more young people into the education pipeline as well.