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August 18, 2023

Expanding access to literacy tutoring through a new partnership with Brilliant Detroit

It’s a regular Tuesday morning in New York in the summer of 2023, and Arden Shapiro opens her computer to deliver a Reading Partners Connects online tutoring lesson. But her student isn’t in her same neighborhood, or even in the same state. He’s several states and hundreds of miles away in Detroit, Michigan. Thanks to a new partnership with Brilliant Detroit, for the first time ever, students are able to use our online tutoring platform to strengthen their literacy skills from halfway across the country. 

In May of this year, Adeola (Ola) Whitney, Reading Partners’ CEO, and Jen Joyce, vice president of national program, had an idea: what if we use our proven Reading Partners Connects literacy curriculum not only to serve students during the school year but reach them where they are during the summer too? With summer quickly approaching and this question on their mind, they began looking for a way to bring online tutoring to students in an effort to mitigate the impact of the summer slide (the learning that students often lose when they’re not in school for several months).

Ola and Jen connected with Michelle Torgerson, the former executive director of Reading Partners SF Bay Area and the current CEO of Raising a Reader, to figure out a way to join forces to expand our collective reach. Since Raising a Reader focuses their literacy support on infants up to school-aged kids and Reading Partners delivers tutoring sessions to students in grades K-4, the collaboration made sense.

brilliant detroit

“It was a natural space for us to be able to come together,” Jen says. 

Michelle had just spent the last year working with an organization called Brilliant Detroit on their Detroit Reads campaign. Through the campaign, Brilliant Detroit offers reading activities, field trips, and pop-up events to children and families in the city.

So Michelle reached out to Brilliant Detroit’s CEO, Cindy Eggleton, with the idea of bringing Raising a Reader and Reading Partners together to serve Detroit kids over the summer. 

“She was very excited about the idea of bringing tutoring in,” Jen says. “So we decided, ‘okay, let’s do it!’”

a student learns essential literacy skills through reading partners connects

A three-pronged approach to literacy support

It was like three pieces of a puzzle coming together. Raising a Reader wanted to find the right community where their program could be useful. At Reading Partners, we wanted to expand our reach and empower kids to be prepared for the school year ahead. And Brilliant Detroit was looking for an organization that could offer high-impact literacy tutoring support to students in their community. With the pieces all falling into place, we got to work.

The first step was finding tutors. Luckily, we already had a team of highly motivated, expertly trained individuals: our AmeriCorps members from the 2022-23 school year! This summer we have a couple dozen former AmeriCorps members serving as our tutors.

“Something that I think is really special about the Brilliant Detroit partnership is that because it’s a community program where students are learning from their homes, there are more opportunities for family engagement than there would be in typical school-based programs,” says Arden, one of the 23 AmeriCorps members serving as a tutor. “It’s wonderful when students get to show off what they’ve learned to their loved ones during a lesson and I’ve really enjoyed talking to families about our program model in greater depth.”

a student logs into reading partners connects as part of our partnership with brilliant detroit

So far, 76 students have logged on to Reading Partners Connects for at least one session, with 123 students on the roster and 31 on the waitlist. For being a summer tutoring program and with only six days of tutoring available so far, it’s a pretty high success rate. 

With tutors all over the country and the students at their homes in Detroit, Brilliant Detroit’s connection with the families is essential. Brilliant Detroit’s team members are able to make house calls, regularly text caregivers, and be our on-site support system in a place where Reading Partners has no regional presence.

“​​Being able to communicate with families of Reading Partners students that are part of Brilliant Detroit has been a productive experience,” says Andrew, one of the program coordinators. “The ability to set the foundation for Reading Partners in a new potential community partnership has been so rewarding.”

an americorps member connects with families via Zoom as part of our partnership with brilliant detroit

Innovating summer programming

Over the summer, many students experience what’s known as the “summer slide,” a time when gaps in learning may result in the loss of foundational skills, such as literacy. But unfortunately, summer isn’t enough time to close those gaps. Our goal in partnering with Brilliant Detroit was to significantly limit summer learning loss. 

Organizations typically start summer learning programs a week or two after school ends in June, then run the program for six to eight weeks. This schedule leaves a gap between the end of their program and the start of the next school year. We know that exposure is key to learning, and that’s why our program runs straight up until the week before school starts in Detroit. 

“They will go into school having been reading with a tutor twice a week for six weeks,” Jen says. “Our hope is that we are setting them up to be able to go back to school, be prepared, and not see the summer slide that so many students experience.”

We’ve also been able to reach more kids in Detroit just in the first few weeks the program has been running. There have been multiple instances where a caregiver has helped their child log into Reading Partners Connects, seen how engaging and effective it is, and asked if they can get another child, grandchild, niece, or nephew involved. And we made it happen. Because we have tutors logging in from all over the country working in different time zones, it’s easy to see when one may be available and to pair them with a student.

a mother helps her daughter on a computer

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels 

What’s next for Reading Partners, Brilliant Detroit, and Raising a Reader

This type of summer partnership with Brilliant Detroit is completely new for Reading Partners. We’ve never before implemented virtual tutoring across state lines to serve students where we don’t have a physical footprint. 

We will use this summer as a learning opportunity to grow into the Brilliant Detroit community. It is our hope that we can continue working with Brilliant Detroit throughout the school year and into next summer, and reach over 200 students through literacy tutoring. Our Powered by Reading Partners model allows Reading Partners to expand our reach beyond our traditional tutoring programs. Through this model, community organizations such as Brilliant Detroit get one-on-one coaching from our manager of partnerships, Brettin White Fox, and support for their staff to successfully bring Reading Partners evidence-based curriculum to the students they serve and train members of their local community to get involved as tutors.  

This summer, the staff at Brilliant Detroit have been learning right alongside students so that tutoring can expand after the summer and once AmeriCorps members end their current term of service.

We know what high-quality, effective literacy programs look like. Now, with Reading Partners Connects, we see an opportunity to make them accessible to as many students as possible.

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