College, high school work together to improve grades

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It was a warm spring day, the sort of weather that makes students bolt out of school as soon as the dismissal bell rings. But sophomore Anthony Darby had stayed behind for another 90 minutes of tutoring.


He was not alone. Another dozen students sat in his school’s media center, seeking help with their homework before heading home.


Since fall 2011, a growing number of students at Washington High School stay late, as many as four afternoons a week, to meet with volunteer tutors from Washington & Jefferson College.


There are about 20 college tutors who assist students at Wash High. About six of the volunteers are Americorps Community Fellows, and for their 300 hours of community service they receive $1,200 toward their college tuition.


The President’s Prep Tutoring Program began thanks to a two-year grant from Americorps VISTA now overseen by program coordinator Ellyn Brancato. Originally designed for students in grades nine and 10, it was broadened to reach all students in grades seven to 12.


“We have no enrollment. It’s just come if you want to come,” Brancato explained.


Caitlin Fadgen, a junior biology major at W&J, volunteers for two hours each Monday and Wednesday. In addition to after-school tutoring, she also juggles her own schedule to assist as a teacher’s aide during high school classes.


For Josh Ali, an eighth-grade student, the homework help has meant better grades, especially in math, where he has managed to bring his grade up several points. Math is a particularly difficult subject for many of the high school students who stay for assistance.


Both Ali and 10th-grader Khalil Young said the tutoring program assures that their homework gets done every day.


Test scores at Wash High have risen each year for the past four years, and Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo, district superintendent, said there is a definite correlation between the rising scores and the tutoring program.


“Any additional supplemental assistance beyond the school day helps improve achievement,” she said of students who consistently participate.


President’s Prep began with just one or two students, but word of mouth has bolstered the program so that now most days between 15 and 20 students attend.


In the beginning, many of the students W&J volunteer Emma Church worked with had late homework to turn in and were trying to catch up, but now she sees better homework habits. In addition, having gotten to know her, several of the high school students she works with are considering college and joining ROTC, just as Church has done.


With the grant ending this year, President’s Prep will morph into a student club on the W&J campus. A student executive board has been named and funds allocated for the club to continue. In addition, the Washington Family Center will enter into a collaboration with the club.


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