Collaboration is one of the essential attributes of successful middle grades schools. The benefits of working together are apparent in the joint efforts of a small midwestern college and an urban middle school to close the achievement gap.
The Department of Middle Childhood Education at Lourdes College in Sylvania, Ohio, in partnership with the United Way of Greater Toledo and AmeriCorps, is providing mentors and tutors at Jones Middle School, an urban middle school in Toledo, Ohio.
When student test scores on the Ohio Academic Assessment indicated that only 33% of Jones sixth graders were at the minimum state acceptance rates, middle childhood education students at Lourdes College stepped in to volunteer an hour each week to work with the sixth grade students to improve their reading proficiency.
AmeriCorps hired Angela Haeck, a Lourdes College middle childhood major, to be the liaison between Lourdes and Jones Middle School. "This is an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our future leaders and to utilize the wonderful education I am receiving at Lourdes College," Haeck says.
The Jones teachers tell the tutors what skills each student needs to work on and the tutors apply their own knowledge, creativity, and educational strategies to teach these skills to the sixth graders.
Sixth grade reading teacher Jeanne Brownfield says, "The Lourdes tutoring program has been a positive addition to our sixth grade curriculum by helping fill gaps in student learning and by providing reinforcement and review of concepts taught by the classroom teachers."
Veronica Briggs, another sixth grade reading and language arts teacher, comments, "The program has been so helpful. Our students thrive in smaller environments, and being in a small group has given each student an opportunity to be successful in that small setting. The Lourdes tutors are professional and willing to take on that challenge."
It has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience for the college students as well. Student tutor Bob Simon says, "After my initial trepidation about tutoring in an inner city middle school, I began to feel very comfortable and accepted in the Jones school environment. I have come to feel like a team member at Jones, and sense that the entire school staff supports us. This program has provided me with a real-life experience of the teaching profession that can never be obtained from a textbook."
The students at Jones also recognize the benefits of the program. Jones student Dujuan Henry has this to say: "It has helped me learn more about things like connotation and denotation. I like my tutor."
Erika Murphy, another Jones student, comments, "I learned that an opinion is only what you think and not what anyone else thinks. The small groups help because I can ask questions without disruptions."
In addition to the tutoring program, Jones students visit Lourdes College, where they have the opportunity to tour the campus, have lunch, and work with Lourdes students and faculty on strengthening their reading skills through several interactive sessions.
"We want to show the students that attending college, and especially Lourdes, is not out of their reach," notes Amy Mergen, director of admissions at Lourdes College and co-coordinator of the program. "One day, we hope to welcome these sixth graders to the community as Lourdes College students."
We will continue to monitor the students' progress every year and watch the students grow and achieve. Not only are we promoting a community and business partnership, we are also emphasizing the characteristics of successful schools in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, October 2010
Charlie Beard is the director of middle childhood education at Lourdes College in Sylvania, Ohio and co-coordinator of the Lourdes-Jones Middle School partnership. He is a past Ohio Middle School Principal of the Year and past president of the Ohio Middle School Association. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org