We must “immunize” children against illiteracy in the critical years before the 4th grade watershed year, when interventions can have the most dramatic impact and before children become discouraged and disengaged.
Using the proven-yet-simple Montessori sensorial-based approach to phonics –sound-letter relationships– a cadre of volunteers can be readily trained and provide the additional instruction required to help at-risk children. Notably, when such Montessori-based instructional support has been incorporated into inner-city programs, the results have been astounding—in one case, high school graduation rates rose from 50% to 94%. National Institute of Health studies have found that at least 95% of even the poorest readers can learn to read at grade level if they are given proper instruction in sound-letter relationships. This statistic was borne out by our own pilot program.
In January, 2012, a first group of retired volunteer teachers and “teacher trainees” began tutoring 1st and 2nd grade students at Detroit’s Schulze Elementary, on the city’s northwest side. At the discretion of the school’s reading coordinator and the class teachers, those children with the greatest reading difficulty were selected to receive tutoring 2-3 times per week over a 45 minute period. At the conclusion of the three month pilot, not only did each of the participating students make noticeable progress towards achieving grade level, but almost as importantly, the students were eager to learn and demonstrate improvement at each session—a critical step forward in curtailing drop-out rates.
Based on the success of the pilot, Schulze’s administration invited Retooling Detroit to participate in theirsummer school program to help their students bridge the reading divide and minimize summer learning loss. For the 2012-2013 school year, the program has been expanded to extend its reach.