The University of Notre Dame has received a $640,000 grant from AmeriCorps that will allow it to continue serving children in the South Bend area and in schools working with the Alliance for Catholic Education.
The award will be used to recruit, train and support 500 volunteers, who will use Cognition Connection, a comprehensive and flexible learning design hub that connects tutors with the cognitive science of learning.
One of the largest initiatives benefiting from the award, TutorND, recruits and trains tutors in evidence-based tutoring practices and then connects them with students in the Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties Head Start Consortium, children in the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County and the Robinson Community Learning Center, students from the South Bend Community School Corp., and schools served by ACE.
“This generous funding from AmeriCorps will have a transformative impact in South Bend and beyond,” said Nicole McNeil, a professor of psychology, the ACE College Professor at Notre Dame and the director of the University’s Cognition, Learning and Development (CLAD) Lab. “Too many children in our community still lack access to high-quality, structured tutoring. Volunteers are eager to help, but without the right tools and evidence-based resources, even the most motivated tutors find it challenging to make a meaningful impact. By working across the research-practice divide with local schools and community organizations, we’re encouraging a new wave of empowered, effective tutors.”
Before the pandemic, McNeil collaborated with local schools as part of her community-based cognitive science class and her research in the CLAD Lab. Researchers in the lab study cognitive development and how children learn to become mathematical thinkers and skilled readers.
TutorND grew out of this work during the pandemic to provide virtual support for students and has since expanded to in-person and virtual one-on-one and small-group tutoring in the South Bend area and schools served by ACE. The program now works with more than 300 children and relies on instructional materials and methods that have been shown through rigorous research to hold promise for improving student outcomes.
The outcomes so far have been promising. All South Bend elementary students who worked with a tutor in TutorND’s full support program demonstrated growth in oral reading fluency from pre- to post-test, and they nearly doubled the average growth rate expected based on national metrics. Each child in Head Start who worked with a tutor in the full support program improved in school readiness skills. Notably, those receiving the full course of pre-kindergarten tutoring sessions experienced a fourfold growth in print awareness.
“The partnership with TutorND illustrates the positive impact achieved through collaboration among community stakeholders, all working to increase access and opportunity for marginalized youth in South Bend,” said Tessa Sutton, the assistant superintendent of diversity, equity and inclusion in the South Bend Community School Corp. “AmeriCorps’ sponsorship aligns with our joint objectives: academic excellence, equity, inclusion, justice, economic sustainability and community partnerships to strengthen student learning. Together, we reach more students and families in concrete, meaningful ways. The school and community are one — there is no separation.”
Cognition Connection will expand the existing infrastructure to give tutors a flexible and comprehensive suite of learning design services, including an on-demand learning hub where tutors can interact with expert consultants to troubleshoot specific challenges, attend synchronous and asynchronous professional learning sessions and request evidence-based tutoring plans for specific learning and enrichment goals. TutorND will also continue to offer its high-impact support option, which will provide additional personalized, step-by-step training for assessment and session planning.
“Early education is so important, and we are thrilled to work with Notre Dame to invest in our most vulnerable kids,” said Alcides Argueta, the Head Start program manager at Lafayette Elementary School. “We’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible bond that forms between our preschoolers and tutors when they use shared book reading techniques based in the cognitive science of learning. Together we’re building a strong foundation for young minds to thrive.”
AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism, provides support to community organizations to help them alleviate poverty, expand capacity in organizations and build economic opportunity through community-driven efforts across the country.