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Tutoring program helps Metro East students overcome pandemic learning loss

The System Of Complaints Is Changing For Students Without Equal Access To Education.
Janice Chang
Special to NPR
Four Metro East school districts are using the Illinois Tutoring Initiative. The program, funded with state ARPA money, trains tutors to help elementary and middle school students make up for pandemic learning loss.

Nearly 100 students across three elementary and middle schools in the East St. Louis district are participating in a tutoring program to help them catch up from pandemic learning loss.

Dubbed the Illinois Tutoring Initiative, the state funneled $25 million of its federal ARPA money toward state universities to train tutors that help students make up for pandemic learning loss in English and math. In addition to East St. Louis, other local school districts participating include Cahokia Heights, Collinsville and East Alton.

“So far, it is going well,” said Antionette Johnson, the director of curriculum in East St. Louis School District 189.

Through the program, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville hired and trained 50 tutors across the four districts, which can be college students, retired teachers and community members. Nearly half, however, are full-time teachers, said Amy Wilkinson, the coordinator for the tutoring program at SIUE.

“It's been such a positive influence on the communities that we work with, as well as the students,” Wilkinson said.

Each school district selected students that had fallen behind because of the pandemic. While the program was launched just last year, preliminary data suggest to Wilkinson that students who opted to participate in the tutoring are performing better than their peers who did not.

“They're just achieving more steady gains,” she said.

Wilkinson said she and others who administer the program will keep a close eye on the next crop of data released later this year.

In East St. Louis, the school district chose an afterschool model for students. The small groups meet on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for 90 minutes, Johnson said.

A headshot of Antionette Johnson
"We do have snacks that we provide for the students; that's always a bonus," Antionette Johnson said with a laugh.

The best part of the program is the three-to-one student to teacher ratio, she said.

“Students are going to get that small group or that individualized support that's needed,” she said. “They don't have to worry about being overlooked, or just too many kids in the classroom.”

The relationships being built between students and their tutors is also exciting for Johnson, a former high school English teacher. It can help, she said, that the tutors come from different backgrounds and aren’t always seen just as a teacher.

“Sometimes, that’s what a kid needs: a trusted adult to help build that confidence,” she said.

Kiyara Conrad, a sixth and seventh grade social studies teacher at Lincoln Middle School in East St. Louis, has been tutoring the past few months.

“I could see a lot of stunt in behavior and academics for the students,” Conrad said. “Definitely a gap, lack of attention, you know, students not engaged in learning when we came back into the classroom.”

Conrad has been diving into subjects she doesn’t normally teach: math and reading. She said she is using a couple of novels that tie back to her native social studies.

For Conrad, the students’ progress in the program is noticeable — and she can tell her students are genuinely enjoying the sessions.

“I think it's working, and it's something that I'm hoping we can keep around to continue to bridge the gap.”

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.