Teach For America (TFA) Houston is launching its new tutoring program, the Ignite Fellowship, focused on helping third through eighth-grade Houston students address learning loss as a result of the pandemic.
The Ignite Fellowship was first developed by Teach For America Phoenix and has expanded to six communities, including Houston. The Phoenix pilot, held during the 2020-2021 school year, showed incredible results, particularly in third-grade literacy and eighth-grade math.
Teach For America recruits college and graduate students to serve as small-group learning fellows who work directly with local schools and students. Each fellow leads a cohort of two to four students, meeting in a virtual learning space (Microsoft Teams/Zoom) during school hours.
This school year, 185 fellows are working in 14 schools in HISD and Aldine Independent ISD to support students.
“At the height of the pandemic we spoke with school leaders, teachers and staff to see how we could be of help. They said they needed more assistance on ground to help with student learning loss and there aren’t enough tutors for each child.” said Tiffany Needham, executive director of TFA Houston.
“Instead of just recruiting teachers, these college students bring a different energy to the tutoring experience. They are able to relate to the children and help with the social emotional learning.”
Recently, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pleaded with the schools nationwide to act swiftly to help millions of students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. He urged all schools to provide at least 30 minutes of tutoring, three days a week, and schools should aim to double the number of counselors, social and mental health workers in their buildings.
The program is a part-time paid opportunity that lasts 12 weeks. The first two weeks are dedicated to training and then the remaining 10 weeks are centered around tutoring.
The learning loss experienced by students last school year was severe. In late June, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the results from the 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).
According to the TEA, the percentage of third through eighth-grade students meeting grade-level expectations dropped by 4% in reading and 15% in math. The drops were significantly more pronounced in students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The trend was seen nationwide.
“We have nine tutors through the Ignite Fellowship and it’s wonderful to see the students enjoy them. Also it takes the pressure off of the teachers because they are working through so much during this time,” said Meagan Edwards, principal of Fondren Middle School in HISD.
“It’s a novelty to have these tech-savvy college students help our students. These tutors are young and bright and they foster interesting conversations outside of school subjects. The children are growing their understanding of college and citizenship and how you can share your gifts with the next generation no matter the distance.”
Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org