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In the Reading Zone

As a graduate school with a student body larger than many undergraduate colleges, Teachers College has an incredible breadth of research and study, to say nothing of individual projects. While in most ways this works toward the college's favor, it can make it hard for those outside the college to get a feel for what TC can do as a whole. The TC Education Zone Partnership, or TCEdZone for short, a key component of TC's newly launched Campaign for Education Equity, seeks to overcome that by dealing with surrounding schools in a holistic way. For example, see TCEdZone project TC Reading Buddies program, which sends TC students from all departments to tutor elementary school students in four nearby public schools. After one semester it's already showing results, both in terms of students' grades and opening the lines of communication for future collaborations with these schools.

Reading Buddies provides one-to-one reading education for 240 struggling students in grades one and three at four elementary schools, PS123, PS 125, PS154 and CS 200. In its first semester this past spring, 38 TC students participated and received full credit.

"This wasn't an easy assignment for the students," said Dawn Arno, director of the program. "It wasn't something that you did and walked away from. When the teachers in these classes realized how consistent and committed the students and the college were, it made a good impression."

The administrations of the four schools embraced the program right from the start, said Arno. "Because the principals made this part of their own operation, the intervention became theirs. It wasn't a 'we-they' relationship. It truly was a community effort, with the college contributing and sharing its expertise, and its human and financial resources."

Beverly Lewis, the principal at PS 123, noted that the reduction in the number of her school's 3rd grade students failing the English Language Assessment (ELA) was so large that the school didn't need to run a summer school program this year. Lauvia Sherman, the principal of PS 125, noted that her 3rd grade students - who had worked most closely with the Reading Buddies - experienced the largest ELA score increase of any grade in the school. "The Reading Buddies program was excellent," Sherman said. "It was a source of one-to-one support that assisted our third grade students in making a significant gain on their scores."

The program, Arno said, has achieved results in terms of the TCEdZone's broader goals as well, paving the way for broader investment by faculty and students at TC in the systemic improvement of the four schools. Not only has the program established a good working relationship with the administration of each school, Arno said, but the Reading Buddies themselves have also become the eyes and ears of the College, observing at the ground level the major challenges facing the schools.

To help the schools deal with problems like these, Arno found a powerful resource: TC professors, who were very willing to lend time and resources. Arno told International and Transcultural Studies professor Ofelia Garcia about the problem her students had seen, and Garcia worked with the school's administration herself to provide professional development for a bilingual program and support for the development of a school wide language awareness program.

The pattern has begun to repeat itself. For example, Curriculum and Teaching professor Celia Oyler now is providing two of the schools with 10 student teachers next year - five each for PS154 and PS125 - and Counseling and Clinical Psychology professor Madonna Constantine has proposed support for school psychology interns for the TCEdZone.

Even more broadly, the TCEdZone has begun a partnership with the Administration for Children Services to provide 12 student interns from six different schools of social work to work in the Reading Buddies' schools. "It's about more than reading and writing," Arno said. "This area has the highest rate of educational neglect and child abuse in the city. If the students are not in school, they can't learn to read."

"We want to treat the TCEdZone as the hub," Arno said. "Our vision is that schools shouldn't have to go 10 places to get service for just one child. They should be able to refer child to social work intern, the TC counseling department, or whatever they need."

What are the next steps for the program? TC Trustee Dinny Morse has committed $250,000 to continue the work that was funded by the late Arthur Zankel, enabling Reading Buddies to function as a year-long commitment in the coming year. A new crop of Reading Buddies will be given a three-week orientation this month. TCEdZone has also begun a partnership with St. James and Riverside Churches to provide continuing education for high school drop-outs between the ages of 18 and 25 in the Harlem area. Other possible programs, such as a TC Math Buddies initiative, have been planned but are awaiting funding.

For more information about TCEdZone, Reading Buddies and their activities, call Dawn Arno at x3858.

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