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Pilot program addresses literacy needs of adolescents


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 26, 2006 – Virginia Tech is among six schools nationwide selected to pilot a program initiated by the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE), a program of the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program, STUDENT TO STUDENT, addresses the literacy needs of adolescents.

Through a generous two-year grant from The UPS Foundation, SCALE’s STUDENT TO STUDENT Program will train college student tutors on diverse campuses in a comprehensive tutoring model specifically addressing the needs of adolescent learners. STUDENT TO STUDENT promises to demonstrate improved school success and enhanced attitudes toward learning among the learners served.

Virginia Tech’s community partner for the STUDENT TO STUDENT program is Tekoa, Inc., a residential treatment facility serving youth 12–18 years of age. Angie Roberts-Dobbins, director of Training and Development at Tekoa, states that the Student to Student program is timely for her organization.

“Unfortunately, many of our students have become lost in the educational system and are perpetually behind in reading, comprehension, and functional skills. Even with our exceptional student-to-teacher ratio, we find that students still crave individual attention to stay focused and on-task, and to celebrate mini educational successes.”

Similarly, Michele James-Deramo, director of the Service-Learning Center, welcomes the opportunity to read out to the adolescent population. “The needs of at-risk adolescents were unmet among our program offerings. The STUDENT TO STUDENT Program helps us to address this need through a sustainable model that is well-designed and easy to implement.”

Fifteen Virginia Tech students, most of whom are students in a course on juvenile delinquency, are signed up to begin tutoring in October.

Assessments of middle and high school students around the country are alarming:

• 71 percent of the nation’s eighth graders are less than proficient in reading (NAEP, 2005).

• Two thirds of all high school students read below grade level (NAEP, 2005).

• 30 percent of the nation’s ninth graders will drop out of school before graduating (Greene & Forster, 2003).

• 38 percent graduate from high school not prepared for college work (Greene & Forster, 2003).

At the same time, labor statistics indicate:

• The demand for a more literate workforce in the future (Barton, 2000)

• Between 1996 and 2006, the average literacy required for all American occupations is projected to rise by 14 percent.

• The 25 fastest growing professions have far greater than average literacy demands.

• The 25 fastest declining professions have lower than average literacy demands.

“There is an urgent need to focus efforts on the literacy needs of adolescents,” explains Kathy Sikes, executive director of SCALE. “While there have been national literacy initiatives focused on young children and older adults, there has not been the same kind of effort made for our nation’s young adults. We believe that college student tutors have a unique opportunity to work with middle and high school students to engage them in learning and help them do better in school.”

Since its inception in 1989, SCALE has been at the core of a robust national network of campus-based literacy programs that fully involves students and their learners. Over the years, distinctive programs have offered in-depth training and resources to program administrators and participants and have provided opportunities for the exchange of information and ideas around the country. As Sikes explains, “The passion and activism of college students has helped learners achieve their goals and has empowered them to be more effective advocates for both themselves and their communities. Through their efforts, literacy becomes a tool for personal and social transformation, and a vehicle for social justice. It is exciting to imagine the impact they may have on the adolescents in this country who need support, instruction, and encouragement.”

SCALE is collaborating with a distinguished group of experts in the field of adolescent literacy and development to establish the tutor training model that will form the core of the STUDENT TO STUDENT Program. The Board of Advisors includes senior representatives from the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise — The Alliance for Youth, Children’s Defense Fund, Corporation for National and Community Service, International Reading Association, National Dropout Prevention Center, National Institute for Literacy, and National Mentoring Partnership. In addition, several key scholars and researchers are collaborating with SCALE including David W. Moore of Arizona State University West.

SCALE will post the tutor training manual on its website for national dissemination and will provide additional training and technical support to campuses interested in developing an adolescent program for college student tutors.

For more information about the Virginia Tech program, contact Michele James-Deramo at 540/ 231-6947.