Over the past decade, local nonprofit Reading Partners DC has connected youths at nearly two dozen elementary schools with volunteers who have helped children strengthen their reading skills. Undergraduates from American University and The George Washington University often counted among those who served in this capacity.
In its latest attempt to battle learning loss and boost reading comprehension among D.C.’s youngest students, Reading Partners DC has established an alliance with Howard University (HU0. Through this partnership, HU students will be able to gain experience and work-study dollars as tutors for one or more of the nearly 1,000 children under the nonprofit’s purview.
“To get children back on track and further along than they’ve ever been, it will take every resident in D.C. to join together and help young people,” said Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, executive director of Reading Partners DC, a program that serves children from kindergarten through the fourth grade. “This is another opportunity for college students to expand their mind, learn about their career path and lend a hand so that [other youth] can follow in their footsteps.”
This fall, Reading Partners DC will facilitate a hybrid tutoring model that builds on Reading Partners Connect, a virtual platform launched during the pandemic that pairs students with tutors for hour-long, twice-a-week sessions.
Plans for the hybrid model and expansion of Reading Partners DC’s volunteer pool take place as the nonprofit seeks increased support of their post-pandemic enrichment initiatives from District schools. Such programs, many believe, can help in reversing the significant learning loss experienced last year, especially among younger students.
Data collected last year by nonprofit organization EmpowerK12 showed that students of color could lose more than nine months of learning in the pandemic due to technological issues in the virtual learning space and in-house stressors exacerbated by the burden of the economic downturn.
This data matched information collected by DC Public Schools earlier in the academic year showing a 12% drop in overall student reading proficiency. Similarly, college students, particularly those who depended on work-study funds, experienced interruptions in their learning and extracurricular activities during the pandemic.
Work-study jobs have long served as a means of financial assistance through which students could work part-time, either on campus or elsewhere. And while some work-study recipients worked remotely during the pandemic, others had their funding source rescinded altogether. Service learning opportunities also suffered, either drying up or moving to the virtual realm.
The American Rescue Plan, heralded by the Biden administration as a means of a full return to normalcy, includes an allocation of $36 billion to the U.S. Department of Education for emergency grants to colleges and universities.
However, even with the return to campus this fall there remains some skepticism about the availability of post-pandemic work-study opportunities.
For HU administrators, collaborating with Reading Partners DC not only provides work-study eligible students with experience and much-needed funds but also helps the local university fulfill a tenet of the Howard Forward 2024 strategic plan which focuses on service to the community.
“This is in alignment with our mission and our Howard Forward strategy,” said Melissa Knight, associate director of HU’s Experiential Learning Program in the Center for Career and Professional Services through which students receive guidance on charting their career paths.
“We would be able to give back and provide D.C. students with education literacy,” she said. “This would [also] allow Howard students to do something that they’re passionate about. This generation is values-driven, so they want to contribute to the greater good. It’s not just about transferable work experience and gaining work-study funds.”