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November 2, 2023

Federal Work Study at Reading Partners: What it is and why it’s important

Ryan is a 28-year-old graduate student at NYU studying global health. Amal is a 19-year-old undergraduate at NYIT studying biology. At first glance, it may not seem like they have much in common. But they both spent a year in Reading Partners’ Federal Work Study (FWS) program, making an impact on the lives of students in their communities.

What is Federal Work Study?

Federal Work Study is a unique opportunity for college and university students to earn money and gain real-life experience before graduating. In fact, students who participate in the program are 3% more likely to graduate and 2% more likely to get a job.

In the wake of the pandemic, students need high-dosage tutoring more than ever. The U.S. Department of Education Secretary decided to take action and called for education leaders to direct 15% of Federal Work Study Funding to increase the number of college students supporting school-aged children as tutors. 

ryan turse federal work study for reading partners

Ryan sporting his Reading Partners shirt during his Federal Work Study.

Federal Work Study at Reading Partners

Reading Partners currently partners with dozens of Federal Work Study students across our twelve regions. Ryan and Amal both worked with Reading Partners New York: Ryan as an IT expert supporting volunteers using our virtual tutoring program, Reading Partners Connects, and Amal as a literacy intervention tutor working in-person with students. 

Amal joined a handful of other Federal Work Study students working between five and twenty hours a week. Since each tutoring session is about an hour long, an FWS student “can have the impact of five regular volunteers” according to Thara Nudges, Reading Partners New York’s community engagement manager. 

“Some are education majors, psychology, social services,” Thara says. “For some of them, it’s unrelated. They just want to get experience on the ground.” 

And that’s exactly what Amal and Ryan were doing. 

Before coming to Reading Partners, Ryan worked as a life skills educator in a primary school in Botswana. “I was running the library and doing a lot of literacy work. So it was kind of a nice fit when COVID happened and I just ended up back in schools,” he says.

amal working as a federal work study student

Amal working with a student during a session

Federal Work Study can help you define your career path

For some Federal Work Study students, working or serving for Reading Partners inspires a career change into education. For others, it makes them realize that education maybe isn’t their passion. Ryan found that while he is passionate about literacy and serving others, education wasn’t his destined career path. As important as it is to figure out what you want to do with your life and career, it’s equally as important to figure out what doesn’t work. 

“It kind of guided me where I wanna go, specifically back to school and what I want to study. And now I’m just passionate about English literacy. I see myself also contributing to some sort of business or nonprofit and doing this work forever.”

Now, Ryan works as a people operations manager for a startup in DC. He dreams of one day continuing to serve others by working on a sexual health and wellness team. 

Amal also has service-minded career goals. She hopes to use her biology degree to work in the medical field. 

a drawing of two hands federal work study

A project that Amal worked on with her student during her time with Federal Work Study at Reading Partners

The impact of working with Reading Partners

Even though Ryan and Amal don’t plan to go into literacy education as a career, through Federal Work Study, they still gained a unique appreciation for Reading Partners’ mission and how important it is for kids to have foundational literacy skills by fourth grade. 

Amal got to see firsthand the impact of our curriculum on students’ confidence. “The most important part about Reading Partners is it doesn’t just focus on their reading, it focuses on their confidence,” Amal says. “It just made me love children more and realize how helpful Reading Partners is for those kids who are behind in reading. It’s crazy the progress you can see and how they get better at reading just through that little program that they come to twice a week.”

Ryan, too, was inspired by his students and gained insight into the realities of the literacy crisis. “You really see the importance of reading…The inequities that you’re going to face throughout your entire life based on not being able to read, starting at such a young age is insane. I think doing the work that Reading Partners is doing is really important.”

If you’re a college or university student, we encourage you to find opportunities through Federal Work Study to support young students in your community, and do your part to help us collectively recover from the learning loss that our nation’s youngest scholars experienced over the past few years. 

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