An Educator’s View: How My Newark Charter School Uses the Power of Tutoring — and the Power of Relationships — to Achieve Academic Recovery for All

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Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has exacerbated achievement gaps for students who were already falling behind before COVID-19 arrived. What happens now is critical for ensuring that schools don’t go back to business as usual, but instead create a system for educational recovery that serves every student.

One initiative to embrace is tutoring that is accessible and available to all. Here’s what’s happening in our public charter school in Newark — and why it can serve as a model across New Jersey and beyond.

At Great Oaks Legacy Charter School, we’ve seen firsthand the positive impacts that one-on-one or small-group learning can have on students. Our method is often called high-dosage tutoring, but it isn’t just about the number of hours. It’s also about the relationship between student and tutor.

One of our core guiding principles is building genuine relationships within our school community and ensuring that students feel known, valued and loved. Tutors work with students daily, either independently or in small groups, and contact their families each week to share progress. Building trust in this way is imperative and helps to generate the type of academic gains we are striving toward.

Since before the pandemic, Great Oaks has worked in partnership with AmeriCorps. Our program, the Great Oaks Tutor Corps, is a one-year AmeriCorps fellowship for recent college graduates who serve in Newark and provide every student in grades 3 to 10 with two hours of tutoring in English language arts and math every school day. Over the years, Great Oaks Legacy Charter School students have consistently achieved a high level of academic growth, and we attribute much of that to our daily tutoring model.

The results have been astounding: High-dosage tutoring has helped Great Oaks regularly send 80 to 90 percent of graduates to college. Research shows that tutoring programs like ours increase achievement by roughly an additional three to 15 month of learning across grade levels. High-dosage tutoring is also one of the most effective ways to increase achievement for students from lower-income families. This is the kind of innovative program that other schools can implement in order to ensure that they are helping all of their students succeed, especially after the COVID pandemic.

Our program has received national and state recognition during the pandemic for providing one of the most effective, research-based interventions to address learning loss. This is one reason why Great Oaks recently announced that we are expanding our program beyond our charter school into the larger district. The new Newark Unites Tutoring Center, created in partnership with Newark’s Metropolitan Baptist Church and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, is intended to make high-dosage tutoring available to ninth- and 10th-graders from any Newark public school and will provide individualized, personalized support in reading and algebra every Saturday.

Programs like these work across the world and at home. Great Britain launched its National Tutoring Programme last year to support schools and address the impact of COVID-19 on students’ learning. In Tennessee, a statewide tutoring corps is recruiting college students to tutor children from their own communities during the summer. For the cost of a stipend, they are making tutoring accessible and addressing student learning loss due to the pandemic.

As Congress deliberates over a slew of national recovery measures, legislators should prioritize funding these types of programs and specifically expand and strengthen AmeriCorps to provide these critical services to students. In New Jersey, legislators should enact a statewide program to scale our tutoring model — today. It’s time to expand high-density tutoring beyond Newark, to every student in New Jersey, so all have the tools they need to succeed.

Coming together to find solutions is crucial in this time of crisis. Programs like this one, that utilize service organizations like AmeriCorps, are what will help our country and our students recover from COVID-19. Service programs are made for moments like this. Let’s double down on their importance everywhere.

Jared Taillefer is executive director of Great Oaks Legacy Charter School in Newark. To become an AmeriCorps member or volunteer, go to americorps.gov.

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