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Students in urban schools get big boost from pioneering tutor program

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The program is likely to expand further under the Serve America Act – recently passed by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama – as Experience Corps has proven to be a boon to the children, the volunteers, and the schools involved. A previous study suggested that Experience Corps even improved student behavior.

Involving 800 students from 23 schools in Boston, New York City, and Port Arthur, Texas, the new study demonstrates that Experience Corps serves children who are among the poorest readers and are at risk of academic failure. Yet, along with other reading skills, the tutors were able to significantly improve their comprehension, "one of the toughest skills to affect," according to researchers. Special education children did not benefit as much as others in reading comprehension, however.

Overall, students' improvement was equivalent to the boost they'd get from being assigned to a classroom with 40 percent fewer children, researchers say. At Blackstone – one of the study sites – the extra help is felt throughout the school.

"It's proven extremely valuable to us as a school community because we have such a large population of English-as-a-second-language learners," says Mildred Ruiz-Allen, Blackstone's principal. "The children need a lot more time in the reading process than teachers can often give, and the volunteers give that one-on-one help."

Teachers in participating schools overwhelmingly see Experience Corps as beneficial to the students while being of little or no burden to them, the study reports. The program became so popular with Blackstone teachers that their plan to use four or five tutors expanded quickly to 20 during the first year.

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