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Reading For Every Child

MARA recently welcomed a new partner to our community, TutorND, led by a steering committee of experts in cognitive science, education, and clinical psychology at Notre Dame, including Professors Nicole McNeil, Patrick Kirkland, Kati Macaluso, Jerry Haeffel, Matt Kloser, and Jill Pentimonti, as well as two postdoctoral scholars: Drs. Michelle Luna and Kelly-Ann Gesuelli and three Assistant Directors: Rose DiTillo, Ben DeMarais, and Vivian Crumlish. 

This partnership comes at a critical time for our children, in view of the post-COVID-19 lag in reading and Math. In 2022, approximately 55% of Black children, 48% of Hispanic children, and 27% of White children in SBCSC did not achieve a passing score on the state reading assessment (Indiana DOE, 2022). The data are similarly troubling on the state’s summative grade level accountability assessment (ILEARN) where 90% did not yet reach proficiency in English language arts and math.

Although MARA focuses on engaging children in sports and recreational activities that involve physical exertion and skills, MARA also promotes after school and summer leisure programs that are free and fun.  MARA’s goal is to provide all children with activities that nurture their intellectual and social development, social and aesthetic competencies, and cultural literacy. 

The need to help our children to become competent readers is urgent. All of us must work together to assure them that they get the instruction and enrichment that they need.  In many cases we need to provide them with specialized tutoring services at all levels, K-12. Most wealthy families employ tutors for their children, so tutoring should not be thought of as simply remediation. Every student has strengths and weaknesses. TutorND tutors will help grow strengths as well as help fill in gaps.

It is essential that those who tutor our children use sound science-based methods. Unfortunately, not all tutoring programs are effective and some actually make it more difficult for children to develop reading skills. Indiana’s Department of Education has taken decisive action by mandating a science-based approach to reading instruction  (Indiana State Law House [House Bill 1558]), while banning the discredited whole language and balanced literacy approaches. For more information on this topic listen to the podcast “Sold a Story.” 

MARA thanks TutorND for working with educational leaders in our city to provide our children with gold standard reading instruction and tutoring services. We congratulate TutorND on winning a $640,000 grant from AmeriCorps, with a 20% matching grant from the University of Notre Dame to support its outreach. This is a renewable grant, with renewal likely for at least three years. Notre Dame's required commitment increases each year, from 20% this year to a maximum of 50% in year 4 and any later year in which the funding is awarded. 

The goal of the grant is to connect volunteer tutors with TutorND’s expertise in cognitive science. This “Cognition Connection” project will support some 500 tutor volunteers and establish an online national open and free learning design “hub” (where volunteer tutors can interact with expert consultants to help troubleshoot specific tutoring challenges, attend development and certificate programs, download curriculum inserts and guides for administering screeners and assessments, and request evidence-based tutoring plans for specific learning goals). On this on-demand learning design hub, volunteer tutors and mentors are connected with instructional coaches and web-based resources to improve the quality of whatever instruction or tutoring they are currently engaging in. 

In addition to the on-demand support offered by Cognition Connection, TutorND will continue to offer their full support option for tutors who wish to engage in high-impact tutoring. Through this option, TutorND helps to recruit, train, and support tutors to work with children at partnering community organizations. This full-support option is aligned with the National Partnership for Student Success's Quality Standards. Tutors who choose the full-support option receive specific training and are required to follow TutorND's high-impact tutoring model. 

TutorND and MARA are fully committed to making sure every child in South Bend learns to read and becomes fully literate. Find out what you can do to help by visiting MARA’s website this December.

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