Pilot Program

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

August 1, 1997

UW-RF Pilot Program To Help River Falls Schools

by Lynn Clement
UWRF News Bureau

This fall UW-River Falls and the River Falls School District will launch a pilot program that will have 20 University students provide tutorial services to K-8 students.

This pilot is affliated with the "America Reads Challenge," which was a federal program initiated by President Clinton to ensure that all children read independently and at the appropriate grade level by the time they leave the third grade. The program is federally funded, with the UW-RF students allowed to use Work/Study Program money as wages while assisting the district. Typically, Work/Study payments have been used to subsidize student workers providing assistance to the University.

The program is one of the 12 educational initiatives that Clinton outlined to prepare America's students for the 21st century, and is one of the few pilot program throughout the Midwest.

Presently, 40 percent of America's fourth graders cannot read at the appropriate level based on testing through the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Research shows that if children have not mastered reading skills by the fourth grade, their chances for later success are significantly reduced.

The outcomes include a greater likelihood of dropping out, fewer job options, and increased delinquent behaviors.

The program's permise is that with individualized attention and tutoring, reading levels can be raised when combined with parental involvement and quality school instruction.

The large numbers of education majors at UW-River Falls provides the good opportunity for those students to get their foot in the door and receive some real-life work experiences in the education field, as well as providing the school district with qualified tutors, according to UW-RF personnel.

The College of Education & Graduate Studies, which is ranked as one of the 10 best teacher education programs in the nation, will provide 20 students to tutor K-8 students in the areas of reading strategies, writing strategies, and math skills.

Dave Woodward, UW-RF director of financial assistance, believes that the program will benefit the college students with experiences such as interviews, on-the-job experience, and contacts for later jobs, such as student teaching.

He said it is a strong example of how college students can both give to and receive from the community.

River Falls assistant Superintendent Dave Paulson adds, "It's a win-win situation." He explained that the school children get the tutorial help they need in math, reading, and writing skills and the University students receive financial assistance to help them through school, as well as experience in the schools and recommendations from employers stating that the individual has the skills needed to teach in schools.

Clinton's challenge is for Universities to use 53 percent of the new Federal Work Study money in the communities to assist elementary school youngsters with their reading skills. According to Woodward, "This program will provide more assistance in terms of help they (the River Falls schools) can give to the students."

The America Reads Challenge builds on the foundation being laid by classroom teachers, librarians and reading specialists by drawing upon the invigorating spirit of community volunteers in tutoring and mentoring. The fundamental purpose of the program is to enable parents and educators to complement and expand existing successful literacy efforts to help many more children increase their skills and achievement levels, and to provide additional help in reading with extended learning time to children who need it most.

Generally, the federal government provides up to 75 percent of the Federal Work Study wages that are paid to students, while the employers must contribute at least 25 percent of their funds. With the America Reads Challenge, the work study money that students receive will be fully funded by federal dollars.

Woodward notes that particularly benefits the district. "With the loss of federal funding in some schools this is a huge gain to help with tutorial services."

Work/Study funds generally have been provided to students who qualify for federal assistance, but allow them to work for the money rather than to receive it through loans.

Paulson believes that there are a number of ways that this program will help the community, the organizations, and the individuals involved. There is an ongoing need to help students, and the River Falls school district has addressed this problem before with volunteer programs. The America Reads Challenge is another example of the University and district collaborating to meet each other's needs, he said.

Paulson hopes that the children will help others when they are adults, as well. If they get the help they need form an older adult, hopefully they will return the favor to future children when they are adults.

According to Paulson, "Everyone profits, including society, when someone helps a child. Children are our future, and if they aren't getting the help they need now, they may never get it. By helping children, you are also helping yourself and ensuring a good future for everyone."

According to Woodward, if the pilot program proves successful between UW-RF and the River Falls School District this year, the University will pursue similar partnerships with other surrounding school districts.

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