Virtual Tutors Helping First Graders Learn to Read in Alexandria

173 Volunteers Have Been Working Non-Stop During Pandemic

Alexandria Tutoring Consortium Tutor Laura Clapsaddle. (Courtesy photo)
Alexandria Tutoring Consortium Tutor Laura Clapsaddle. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria, VA, March 30, 2021 – When Laura Clapsaddle recently became a first-time tutor with the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC), little did she anticipate that she would be tutoring a student virtually from inside a tent.

“He had set up a tent in his living room that no one was allowed to go in except me during our Zoom tutoring sessions,” Clapsaddle chuckled.  “It is his reading tent.  He keeps his books inside along with a pillow to ‘get comfy.’  We just had our second session from ‘inside’ the tent and it was fun!”

Clapsaddle is one of 173 volunteers virtually tutoring first graders in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), helping them overcome the learning challenges presented by COVID-19.

The pandemic is hurting reading achievement. “Our volunteer tutors and staff have been working non-stop to help these first graders learn to read.  Yet due to the learning hurdles presented by the pandemic, we’re finding students are not progressing as they likely would if five days a week, in-person instruction were occurring,” said ATC Board Chair Board Frank Stiff.

At the halfway point this school year, 45 percent of ATC Book Buddy students were reading on grade level.  Last year at the same point (pre-pandemic), 63 percent were reading on level.  At the end of last year, after the organization created a virtual program to continue tutoring despite the pandemic and extended it through the summer, 91% of ATC’s students finished the year reading on level.

little boy inside tent reading.
ATC Reading Tent. (Courtesy photo)

“We recognize our students are not as far along this year,” said ATC Executive Director Lisa Jacobs.  “But we know our curriculum works, we know our tutors are motivated, we know the students enjoy working with their tutors, and we know the teachers are grateful we’re providing differentiated literacy support to their classrooms. We’re confident that the combined effect of these factors and continued tutoring will bring students up to grade level reading.”

Jacobs also noted that 75 percent of ATC students had already made substantial reading gains, moving up two levels by the end of the first semester.  “That’s a good number, but we still need to do more.”

Summer tutoring helps bridge the gap.  One reason so many ATC students ended last year reading on grade level was the creation of a new, summer virtual tutoring program. Last year’s summer program was a first for ATC and the organization is in the planning and fundraising process to offer it again this year.

“We saw last year the benefit of providing additional tutoring sessions,” Stiff said, “and I anticipate our board, volunteers, staff and donors will once again join together to make a summer program possible. I’m optimistic that we’ll have as many Book Buddies as possible reading on grade level and ready for success in second grade.”

ATC volunteers are the key. Clapsaddle, like all ATC volunteers, attended curriculum training with the literacy non-profit, learned the technology to use with her student for virtual tutoring, and began tutoring.  She works with her student twice a week and although they’ve never met in person, the two truly have become “buddies” as they’ve made significant reading progress. Seeing the effective program at work, she has recently begun tutoring a second student.

“Our tutors are incredibly dedicated individuals.  Time and time again, we hear how they go above and beyond to help a child learn to read.  I’ve only heard of one tent so far, but we’ve also heard of tutors donning character costumes from a favorite book for a tutoring session and even scheduling extra time beyond the allotted twice-weekly sessions,” Stiff said. “They seem to do whatever is takes and many of them are happily willing to volunteer this summer.”

Funding is needed for summer tutoring. The non-profit’s upcoming summer tutoring program will require additional resources.  ATC will be participating in the community-wide online fundraiser, Spring2Action, sponsored annually by ACT for Alexandria.  The event is April 28 with early giving beginning on April 14.  To donate to ATC and help make a summer program possible, log on to alexandriatutors.org and click the “donate” button at the top of the homepage.

RELATED: ATC Looking for Donations to Keep Tutoring Kids During Pandemic, Kids So HAPPY To See Their Book Buddies

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