The Schools of Hope Project is a unique collaboration of the United Way of Dane County, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and Centro Hispano. Its mission is to work with school staff to increase the academic performance of students of color and those from low-income families. The program serves elementary school students in Madison, Sun Prairie, and Middleton, Wisconsin.
Led by a team of AmeriCorps members based in elementary schools, volunteer tutors are matched with children in need of additional help with reading and math. AmeriCorps members are responsible for the recruitment, screening, placement, orientation, training, support, evaluation and recognition of a diverse pool of community volunteers. The Project works closely with school staff to deliver high-quality academic support.
There are several components to the Schools of Hope Project:
- Trained one-on-one volunteer tutors for elementary students identified by teaching staff
- Ongoing tutor training sessions provided by school district professionals
- Tutoring sessions guided by materials provided by the classroom teacher
- Support for MMSD’s summer K-Ready program through placement of AmeriCorps members in classrooms to address academic needs of struggling students who will be entering kindergarten in the fall
- Elementary Learning Kits (ELK) containing books, supplies and activities for students to keep at home, including bilingual books and activities
- Support for school-based family literacy programs
Each year Schools of Hope serves 39 elementary schools and one after-school community program. The Project also collects and distributes more than 8000 books annually to low-income students to help them build home libraries.
The Schools of Hope Literacy Project began in 1995 as a civic journalism project by the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV that studied ways that active community engagement could address critical needs. Educational issues quickly emerged as a community priority. A Leadership Team comprised of community leaders was convened by United Way of Dane County. They reported the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers as a growing concern. Upon further study they identified tutoring as a method of addressing this challenge, and in 1998 the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) awarded a grant to provide AmeriCorps*VISTA members who would serve as volunteer coordinators in Madison elementary schools. Over the years, the project expanded to include other Dane County schools and currently serves the Madison, Middleton and Sun Prairie districts.
When the CNCS grant ended in 2004, United Way of Dane County allocated funding to continue Schools of Hope. RSVP of Dane County was asked to serve as the Lead Agency for the project. At that time, the project partners applied for and received a CNCS AmeriCorps*VISTA grant to support early learning activities for preschool children, and the Preschools of Hope Project was launched.
In 2007 the project was awarded an AmeriCorps*State grant through the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through this grant the efforts of both Schools of Hope and the Preschools of Hope were combined in order to provide a seamless approach to providing literacy and math support for students in preschool through fifth grade.
Evidence of Success
The Schools of Hope Project was evaluated in 2012 by Dr. Annalee Good, a national researcher who studies academic tutoring programs. Her findings include the following:
- Elementary SOH has a positive impact on student academic achievement in literacy as measured and triangulated using Text Reading Level (longitudinal), grade reports and teacher surveys. Tutored students showed greater gains in reading than a comparison group of non-tutored peers who were matched based on gender, race/ethnicity, English language proficiency and income.
- Elementary SOH is aligned to the existing research base on effective elementary volunteer tutoring programs and to the Madison district’s literacy curriculum.
- Stakeholders (school staff, volunteers and AmeriCorps members) feel they experience a high quality program.