Room 120: Where Intensive Tutoring Empowers Students

In 2008 when Sarah Hastings Morley and Stefanie Goy arrived at the-then, St. Martin De Porres High School for their first day of teaching, they discovered an empty teacher supply closet, no text books, and only two novels: The Lord of the Flies and Romeo and Juliet.

At the time, students who needed academic assistance would be ushered backstage in the “cafe/gym/atorium” behind the curtain of the dusty stage to a dimly-light school storage room. Or, they would get tutoring after school which didn’t benefit kids who struggle with a long school day.

“For the students, it felt like punishment,” says Goy.

Both teachers knew the importance of creating a comfortable and energizing environment to engage and motivate young people, especially those who are struggling in school. They were brought in to merge two efforts: academic assistance and behaviors, and literacy support. Goy was recruited because of her work with The Summer Bridge Program and success with classroom management and Morley proposed a need to utilize her reading specialist background.

They began lobbying to transform the “backstage” into an inviting and non-threatening classroom-like space where learning opportunities and intensive one-on-one tutoring and coaching could support both student academic achievement and culture success.

Welcome to Room 120. Opened just this semester, the backstage was rehabbed, which included constructing a wall behind the red velvet stage curtain and a door for privacy. The room was painted in a warm, light green (Benjamin Moore dubs this popular-on-Pinterest shade, “Kensington Green”). And the teachers, who assembled a Room 120 team, decorated the room with their own touches, including a motivational poster of Ghandi with the quote, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

The team is working diligently this year to create a student-friendly educational environment and learn how Academic Assistance and Literacy Support can work together.

“Our desire is to remove the stigma that AAP is for failures,” Goy says.

Morley, a reading specialist/literacy coach and Goy, Director of Academic Support, and their team of four additional teachers, a full-time AAP staff member and a volunteer, had a hand in designing the content area assessments and readings from student’s current courses using Best Practices in assessment and literacy. They have been strongly supported in their efforts by Principal Mike Odiotti, who also joined the staff in 2008 and hired both Goy and Morley.

Here’s How it Works

The in-depth innovation used to revamp the existing program makes it distinctly unique in the country compared to typical academic assistance and literacy programs because it focuses on the student’s core texts and not the afore-mentioned extracurricular or supplemental reading and studies, says Morley.

Under the revised curriculum, each student is assigned as a caseload/individual plan and each day they establish an achievement plan that is discussed when they arrive and after their time in Room 120. All students are an individual case, with the program being run by each student’s caseload.

These students are the highest-need participants, identified to participate in the Academic Assistance Program by their teachers, grades, test scores, ACT scores and other testing and observation. They receive support several times a week. Other students work directly with their instructors who have been coached and supported on Best Practices by Goy and Morley.

It’s a school-wide team effort, they both say.

“It’s a new vision,” says Morley. “Our main goal (of the LSP program) is for students to access grade-level texts in order to target reading deficits.” The purpose of AAP is to determine what support students need, and teach them the tools to achieve academic success. Room 120 is an innovative solution that has both programs working side-by-side.

The program was born out of the need to create a more intensive approach to tackling literacy deficits. The team needed to get creative and the vision seemed clear: Instead of adding to students’ caseloads, why not support them where they are, offering them help with their existing coursework?

In addition to the support given through the LSP caseload, students are scheduled into Critical Literacy and/or Content Area Literacy. This critical support offers instruction in fluency, comprehension and writing, and most importantly, exposure to at-level and above-level texts from the students’ core classes with intense instruction.

Goy and Morley spend their days coaching students and teachers, working on literacy skills and academic behaviors. Based on what they and their team see working with students, they work with their teachers to help the students achieve success in the classroom. Currently there are 56 students enrolled in the AAP program, 22 in literacy support and six students who the AAP team has on the “watch list” to ensure they are performing academically up to speed.

Building Confidence and Independence

Focused on students teetering on the edge of proficiency, the program is based on the fundamental principle that literacy is the key to higher learning and a window to the world.

The team works swiftly to support the students to come up to grade level in their reading, writing and other academic subjects.

Fifty percent of CRSM students come to us below grade level and 40 percent of incoming freshman come to CRSM at least two grade levels behind. All struggling readers are tested to pin-point reading issues at CRSM and have had deficits in fluency, comprehension, or both, says Morley.

The program is generating results. In January, Goy and Morley will travel to Los Angeles to present it to principals and administrators from throughout the Cristo Rey network.

“Students are learning what tools help them to be successful, and applying those tools across disciplines,” says Goy.

Initially, it was challenging to win student buy-in to the program, says Goy. Students resisted, insisting: “But I am not failing. Why do I have to be here?” However after a few weeks of coaching and collaborating with their teachers, students began to see the impact AAP was having.

“Students now come to AAP excited to tell the team how they did on essays, projects and assessments,” says Goy. “Some now request materials to make study aids and work together to support each other’s learning. They are learning what tools are helpful and applying them across the disciplines. It is exciting to see students work hard willingly.”

At the end of the first quarter, 17 students showed so much significant progress and independent learning skills they were able to go back to their study halls, having met the goals set at the beginning of Quarter 1. One of AAP’s main functions is that students can exit at the end of the Quarter. “They were so proud of themselves and we were proud of them too,” says Goy.

Other team members include: Kristen Barry, AAP support staff for the last three years; Judy DeMint, volunteer; Kumkum Ghosh, science and math teacher; Andrea Horcher, math teacher; Rob Horcher, math teacher and Molly McConnell, science teacher.