Student Literacy Corps | Webster University

Student Literacy Corps

Good afternoon and thank you for travelling to campus today for this exciting event. Please go ahead and get started on your salads, I am going to say a few words and then I’ll join you and enjoy our lovely lunch. I am delighted that you all are able to join us.

Welcome to our representatives from The Saigh Foundation, from Maritz, and from the Dana Brown Charitable Trust. Welcome to our representatives from Bayliss High School. And last but not least, to our Student Literacy Corps tutors who have joined us here today –please stand so we’ll know who you are- I’ll say welcome back to campus and thank you for the inspiring work that you do!

I hope that all will enjoy this afternoon’s celebration of the successes of the Student Literacy Corps, and our presentation on the findings of the recently completed, year-long, formal assessment of the program, made possible by a generous grant from the Dana Brown Charitable Trust. 

I trust that, like me, you will find these results reflective of the outstanding impact that the SLC has on its participants, and instructive of the real potential this program has to grow in new, and significant, and necessary ways.

All gathered today because, quite simply, we believe in leaving the world a better place than we found it. We come to that belief from a variety of origins: educators, student tutors, university staff and faculty, and philanthropists. 

Despite our diverse backgrounds, we are all driven by a common purpose: to be good stewards of our talents and our resources by investing them in our community to assist the individuals who are in the most need of the assistance we are poised and eager to give.  Webster University’s Student Literacy Corps is a prime example of how a successful, collaborative partnership can achieve just that.

Founded in 1990 by School of Education faculty, the Student Literacy Corps began as a University course with an extensive field experience component and most of the tutors were Education majors.  The Student literacy Corps model was originally designed with the dual purpose of benefiting university students through service-learning experience and low-literacy populations through individualized, consistent tutoring.  That consistency is key: one of the hallmarks of the Student Literacy Corps is its emphasis on one-on-one tutoring over a semester or even an entire academic year. This structure allows for relationships to develop, relationships of trust and respect between tutor and struggling reader.  These relationships are further strengthened by the relative age proximity between the two individuals.  We hear time and again from teachers and administrators that students are often motivated by their college-aged tutors because they see those tutors as “peers” whom they wish to impress with their progress. Indeed, the design of the Student Literacy Corps facilitates strong rapport between tutors and their students, further maximizing the latter’s capacity to improve literacy skills.

Today, the Student Literacy Corps works to accomplish three primary outcomes: To help new and struggling readers to increase their literacy skills; to provide tutors with meaningful teaching and community service experience; and to support schools and other education agencies with trained, dedicated tutors who can give individualized attention to the students who need it most.

The SLC has expanded in recent years to include students from all of the schools on campus. Many are still Education majors, but, as you will see from the tutors at your table, they come to us from all types of backgrounds and for all kinds of reasons. Some students join the program because they enjoy working with children.  Some are drawn by the opportunity to become more engaged in our community.  Indeed, every year, some students join our program because, quite simply, a tutor helped them when they were young and they want to pay that back.

As the program has expanded to include more student tutors, so, too, have the number of schools and agencies requesting their help.  Thanks to the generosity of our funders, particularly those represented here today, we have been able to respond to the increased need for student tutors in our community. Grants from The Saigh Foundation and Maritz have provided the necessary resources to support tutor stipends that have allowed us to supplement federal work-study funds, and hire and train enough student tutors to assist the growing number of low-literacy readers at partner sites. In this most recent academic year alone:

  • 65 tutors served students in 23 different schools and other sites in the St. Louis region;
  • over 900 individuals were served through tutoring and other community literacy activities;
  • the Student Literacy Corps boasted over 8,500 hours in which student tutors worked one-on-one or in small group settings with struggling readers.

And, as the program has grown, both in age and in number of students and sites served, so, too has our desire – our need – to more fully understand the impact that this program is having in our community.

We see this as a responsibility: to our valued funders, who quite rightly seek to measure the direct outcomes of their investments; and to ourselves, as a University with a real interest in utilizing data to inform our decisions, whether in developing and refining curriculum, or in how we engage with the community.

Most recently, the Dana Brown Charitable Trust, through a generous grant in 2011, funded an assessment of the Student Literacy Corps, its training, and its impact on our community and our tutors.  Today, it is my pleasure to share the findings of this assessment with you.  After lunch, Kate Northcott, Director of the Student Literacy Corps, will come forward with a presentation on the activities and the results of this rigorous program evaluation.

She’ll also introduce Anna Barton, a Communication Arts teacher and tutor coordinator from Bayliss High School, as well as two Webster students – Aldijana {pronounced Aldi-ahna} and Ann - who will offer first-hand accounts of their experiences as tutors in the Student Literacy Corps.

But first, as lunch is being served, let’s observe a compelling video – made last year by students in our School of Communications- which marks one of the first information-gathering activities of the program assessment and, in a very moving and inarguable way, represents the both the spirit and the real achievements of the Student Literacy Corps program, which we are all proud to support. After the video, we will finish up lunch and then Kate will take us into the next presentations.