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New tutoring program in Pinellas will help struggling students

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Published:   |   Updated: September 9, 2013 at 06:36 AM

CLEARWATER — Every school in Pinellas County offers programs that tutor students before or after school, but around 2,800 students in high poverty schools will be part of a new, cutting-edge curriculum that targets individual weaknesses.

This week, 22 elementary schools and six middle schools that scored C’s or lower on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will launch Promise Time, a tutoring program that would keep about 100 students at each location working on their “problem areas” after school, said Superintendent Michael Grego.

The “Promise Time” program will add 60 to 90 minutes to the school day for struggling students identified by test scores and overall school performance. The program is meant to help them keep up with required coursework and explore other interests. Students will be encouraged to join drama clubs, plant gardens, join book studies and listen to guest speakers, Grego said. At least 80 percent of students at the targeted schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“I think it’s a great deal,” Grego said. “With childcare so prevalent in our society, so many parents are always looking for high quality aftercare programs and this is a better mix where we can meet the academic need and then go right into an after-school program that isn’t just busy work.”

Pinellas County teachers will run the program, but much of its design was left up to the Juvenile Welfare Board, which paid for an online program and curriculum that will outline much of how students spend their hour. The iReady program looks very similar to other online games, with animated characters, NBA-related story lines, and interactive games sprinkled throughout lessons in reading and math. As students work through the program, either at home or after school, their teachers will get a detailed report of their progress, as well as suggestions on how to help them in areas where they are struggling. Then, teachers can easily offer breakout tutoring sessions to students with the same issues.

The “lynch pin” of the program’s success is how students are initially assessed this week through an hour-long online quiz, as the entire program is meant to track students’ progression, said Debbie Volk, senior researcher for the Juvenile Welfare Board.

“It really helps the teachers maximize their time, instead of having to guess where their students need help and also takes some of the work out of planning for the day,” Volk said.

Every school already has a partnership with the Juvenile Welfare Board with an organization such as R’Club or the YMCA for before and after-care that is often located at the school, said Matt Spence, early learning project manager for the board. Now those students will join their classmates for Promise Time tutoring and extra activities will be more aligned to what they’re learning in school. Likewise, students in Promise Time can continue working on the same skills until their parents pick them up, even if it’s after the formal hour of tutoring is over.

“The school district came to us for help not that long ago, so we’re kind of building the plane as we move down the runway,” Spence said. “This also helps us structure our out-of-school-time programs, because in the past it’s been a totally separate program that’s not really connected to what kids learn in class, even if they’re using the same building.”

Depending on enrollment, each school will employ three to seven teachers who will divide up pay for an additional 40 hours a week at $20 an hour.

The teacher student ratio will be 13:1, Spence said, and the school district’s funding will come from state academic intervention and Title 1 funds. The Juvenile Welfare Board will spend $655,000 in funding from property taxes on the program and extra teacher pay for the year.

The iReady program is aligned to the Common Core standards, a nation-wide set of standards scheduled to be implemented in Florida schools for the 2014-2015 school year, and can easily be adapted to use in the classroom. The program also adapts to the student’s skill level, so they can benefit from the program even if they are way ahead of their classmates.

“It’s not necessary for us to continue to fragment these types of services, so I’m really excited this finally brings together after school providers in a much more organized fashion,” Grego said. “It’s not just about kids that need extra help, but kids spending that extra time in the best possible way.”

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

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