Confident Readers, Capable Readers
Reach Incorporated in Washington D.C. is an out-of-school time program through which teens, who struggle with reading, are hired as elementary school literacy tutors and supported in becoming children’s book authors, resulting in reading improvement for both the elementary school students and their teen tutors.
Currently, eight out of ten DC public school students enter high school reading below grade level. This crisis has roots far earlier, as more than half of the city’s students are reading below grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Some may see two distinct challenges. At Reach, we see a single opportunity.
Reach Incorporated develops grade-level readers and capable leaders by training teens to teach younger students, resulting in improved literacy outcomes for both. Struggling teen readers benefit from practicing reading at, or just above, their current grade level. Younger readers benefit from targeted instruction and relevant texts. Through Reach’s unique, out-of-school-time model, the needs of both populations can be met through a single literacy-focused relationship.
Through Reach’s model, many of our teens are seen as community assets for the first time. By serving as tutors, they become role models while addressing foundational literacy gaps and ensuring that younger members of their community never fall behind.
Founded in 2009, Reach began serving participants in the fall of 2010. In that first year, the organization recruited 20 teen tutors to work with 20 elementary school students at Perry Street Prep Public Charter School. In 2011, a second site was added in partnership with Eastern Senior High School, our first DC Public Schools partner. Since then, we have added 7 additional program sites.
In 2013, Reach launched the Summer Leadership Academy. During this intensive summer program, teens develop leadership skills, practice high-level communication competencies, and plan for life beyond high school. Additionally, as part of this summer programming, 44 of Reach’s teens have authored 17 children’s books. Almost 20,000 copies of these books are currently in circulation.
Reach’s work has been recognized by the Aspen Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In 2015, Reach was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize, given to one organization promoting the love of reading. During the 2016 – 2017 school year, Reach served 350 participants – 180 teen tutors and 170 elementary school students – at 8 program sites in the District of Columbia. As part of our current strategic plan, we aim to serve 500 participants by the fall of 2017 and 1,100 by the fall of 2021.
After-School Tutoring: Reach Incorporated creates improved reading outcomes through a unique, three-pronged approach:
Training: Twice each week, teen tutors are guided by professional instructors in creating lesson plans grounded in the five core components of literacy development: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.
Tutoring: On two alternating days, teens use these lesson plans to provide one-on-one or small group instruction to 2nd and 3rd grade students in need of support to achieve reading proficiency.
Compensation: High school tutors are paid for program participation and can earn promotions based on their performance both in and after school.
Summer Leadership Academy: Teen tutors can participate in an intensive, six week leadership development program. During this experience, teen build resumes, participate in mock interviews, visit colleges, compete in a public speaking challenge, and author children’s books that are both engaging and relevant.
College Mentoring: Tutors in 11th grade are paired with professionals from local companies who assist with college selection, applications, and financial aid.
Teen Authors: Teen authors regularly visit local schools to inspire young audiences with books that tell engaging and relevant stories filled with diverse characters that represent the communities we serve.
Reach hires 9th and 10th grade students from low-performing schools in the District of Columbia. These teens are enlisted as reading tutors for 2nd and 3rd grade students at nearby elementary schools. Both the teen tutors and their elementary school students are selected based on their struggles in reading. 95% of Reach’s students are African-American, and 5% are Latino/Latina. Over 90% of participants qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch.
Historically, Reach’s elementary school students have experienced 1.5 grade levels of reading growth per year of program participation. This growth, equal to what might be experienced in the classroom of a highly effective teacher, is created by teen tutors who themselves have historically experienced over 2.0 grade levels of reading growth per year. Additionally, though our tutors are selected based on their academic struggles, 91% of our teen tutors graduate from high school on time.
Additionally, Reach’s tutors regular report their high levels of satisfaction with the program. They have authored 17 children’s books, with almost 20,000 copies in circulation. The strength of our teens’ books is evident through the fact that a highly regarded early-childhood provider recently purchased 3,000 copies of one of our books to distribute, for free, to the city’s Pre-K students.
Recommendations for Replication and/or Adaptation
Though Reach’s program curriculum is not currently available for distribution, members of the program team are available for occasional phone consultations.
To successfully replicate our after-school program, it is necessary to have an interested high school located near an elementary school. Training sessions take place twice a week; i.e. at the high school on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tutoring sessions occur at the elementary school twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The most challenging part for our Program Instructors, the adults who lead training sessions and supervise tutoring sessions, is to ensure that the teen tutors are responsible and prepared for leading lesson planning and execution.
our core beliefs require that we build long-term
relationships, which is why tutors are hired in 9th grade and can remain
through graduation. Finally, membership in Reach’s community is
unconditional; tutors cannot be fired.
If interested in our teen-authored books, it should be noted that we partner directly with Shout Mouse Press, a writing program and publishing house that assists Reach’s teens in creating and publishing engaging and relevant stories.
Mark Hecker, Executive Director
(215) 205 – 9902
To see Reach’s program in action, check out this short video from Stone Soup Films.
Reach Incorporated Newsletter, Summer 2018
Confident Readers, Capable Readers
REACH 2020-2021 update
REACH has had to make many major pivots over the last year. Currently, most DC students are not learning in person. So, all Reach programming is currently happening through virtual platforms. Our teens are meeting three times a week via Zoom. They're focusing on literacy-building, community building, and current events. We do hold tutoring sessions, generally once a week. In addition to our regular programming, we have tried adding some additional mental health supports, mostly through mindfulness practices and guest speakers. Finally, we are administering an emergency fund to assist our families with significant needs created by the current economic climate.
Our afterschool programs for turoting young children has also necessitated changes as DC Public Schools (DCPS) eliminated all after-school programming. So, while we used to work with school partners, those partnerships were seriously limited this year. Additionally, many young learners are suffering from significant cases of Zoom fatigue. So, we've had a hard time enrolling young readers. For this reason, we've gone to a more events-based approach. We have held several online events featuring our teen authors, and we're working to re-engage our school partners through book giveaways and online events.
We have continued the roll out of The Reach Fellowship, We have seen a couple teens actually earn employment through some of our corporate partners, and we're seeing an uptick in college graduations. Our teens are still interested in learning life skills through workshops, though they too are struggling with Zoom fatigue. We've had to add some new incentives and seek teen input on how often we hold workshops, but we're finding a new programmatic rhythm.
Most exciting, a year into this pandemic, we're beginning to assess the reading levels of our teens for the first time in fifteen months. Based on our testing so far, our teens have averaged 2.5 grade levels of reading growth during the pandemic. Given much-discussed concerns about reading loss, it seems that the community we've built and the support we've provided have allowed our teens to continue growing their academic and professional skills during this challenging time.