GENEVA — Three mornings a week, the first-grade classroom at St. Francis-St. Stephen School is filled with an equal number of first-grade and college students. This isn’t as strange a combination as it may seem: The college students are there to tutor the youngsters through the America Reads Challenge.
Established in 1996, the America Reads Challenge is a national campaign intended to help all children learn to read well and independently by the end of their third-grade year. To achieve this goal, tutors come into first- through third- grade classrooms and give students personalized attention and help.
Through the program, 17 college students from nearby Hobart and William Smith Colleges arrive at St. Francis-St. Stephen’s at 8 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday to work with 17 first-graders. The college students are paired with the same students each week, and watching the pairs work on reading, writing and vocabulary skills is exciting, according to first-grade teacher Sandy Schading.
“The college students are starting to identify the needs of each student, so it’s such a big help. They’re getting more personal with the kids and determining what their students’ needs are,” Schading said.
While the tutoring sessions are supplemental and don’t take the place of regular reading classes, the pairs do cover things required by New York state education standards, she said. Schading can already see her students — especially those who had been struggling — improving their reading skills.
“It’s not huge, but it’s steps forward,” she said.
Students get more than just improved reading skills out of their partnership with the college students, she noted. They also look forward to working with the “big kids” and are usually very well-behaved for them, Schading said.
First-grade students Ryan Quigley and Mia Pollino said they enjoy the word and vocabulary games they play with their tutors. Classmate Maxwell Mosser said he enjoys drawing and reading with his tutor.
“They love it, and so do the big kids, I think. It’s amazing. They’ve developed some serious rapport together,” Schading said.
Hobart and William Smith student Bryan Romas, 20, coordinates his fellow America Reads tutors at St. Francis-St. Stephen’s. The college students value their partnership as much as the younger students do, he said. Although it can be hard for some of the college students to drag themselves out of bed in time to be at the elementary school by 8 a.m., they realize how important their presence is to the first-graders.
“They’ll go because they know their kids are waiting for them, and they know their kids will miss them. You definitely create a bond with the kids,” Romas said.
The tutors participate in America Reads through a work-study program on campus, but Romas sees tutoring at St. Francis-St. Stephen’s as more than a typical work-study job.
“It’s not like you’re working in a cafe or down in the archives of the library. You’re actually giving back to the community. You’re answering a need in the community,” he said.