Some Oregon Elementary Schools Target Reading Skills With Virtual Tutors – Jefferson Public Radio | Team Cansler

Monday through Friday, just after noon, a small group of second graders from Durham Elementary in Tigard head into the library armed with their iPads.

Each student grabs a pair of headphones and checks their mic before logging into a Zoom meeting with a tutor.

Before students start reading, they check in with each tutor, fill them out for their weekend, and talk about how they’re feeling that day. A student reads from the screen: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I always do my best.”

Then the tutoring begins. Students move through the 15 minute session, each at their own pace. Each screen shows something different. A list of words for students to read through, a blank page to practice writing words, or a few sentences to read. In the corner of the screen is a student in one box and a tutor in another.

At 12:30 the students are gone, back in their classrooms.

Second grader Bentley Webster takes part in Ignite! Reading, a virtual tutoring program at Durham Elementary in Tigard, on November 7, 2022. Durham is one of several schools across the country piloting the program, which uses one-to-one tutoring to help students with reading skills.



This year, 16 second graders from Durham are taking part in a pilot for a virtual tutoring program called Ignite! Reading. Now in its second year, the program has expanded its pilot to more than 20 schools and districts across the country, including Durham and seven schools in eastern Oregon.

As state and national data show the severe impact of the pandemic on student literacy and numeracy, programs like Ignite! Reading stands for targeted efforts to catch up on reading through differentiated individual lessons.

Durham Headmistress Cleann Brewer helped bring the program to her school this year. She enjoys the one-on-one aspect of tutoring, something she couldn’t otherwise offer students.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to … have one-on-one people reading with kids led by a team of people making sure they’re teaching kids to read in an inquiry-based and impactful way,” Brauer said . “I’ve never had the opportunity to give private lessons and I really believe in it.”

In Durham, students are lagging behind in reading, Brewer said. Some of the second graders start in kindergarten, others read in the first grade. The goal of the program is to get students to where they need to be in second grade and to make progress in learning to read through third grade, a crucial year for students. Then students start reading to learn new things.

Recent state and national assessments have shown that students are lagging behind in math and reading, but federal funding has been allocated to make improvements. Oregon received $1.1 billion with the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund III. At least 20% of district spending of these dollars must be used to address learning disabilities.

A student practices typing on a tablet during a virtual tutoring session November 7, 2022. Several schools across the country are testing Ignite!  Reading, a virtual tutoring program aimed at helping students learn to read.

A student practices typing on a tablet during a virtual tutoring session November 7, 2022. Several schools across the country are testing Ignite! Reading, a virtual tutoring program aimed at helping students learn to read.



Tigard-Tualatin funds Ignite! Pilot with circle means, but not specifically from ESSER.

Eastern Oregon University has partnered with the company to help students train and provide tutors. Most of the program’s tutors are college students who are educated and paid.

Earlier this month Ignite! hosted a presentation of the program at Durham Elementary with presentations from Founder Sliverski.

The program works to build students’ word recognition skills through phonological awareness by helping students break down words. Sliwerski, a former teacher and founder of Ignite!, said the skills students need to learn are fundamental to their education.

“It’s bigger than reading. It’s also math, it’s also science, it’s also social studies,” Sliverski said. “Reading is the operating system of a school, and if you can’t read, you can’t learn.”

Both elementary and middle schools are part of the expansion of the program this school year, serving more than 1,000 students. A report released by the company on the progress of 551 students who participated in the last year found that the students made 2.4 weeks of reading progress in each week that they participated in the program.

In Tigard, Brewer saw the program as a “change idea” to fill in gaps for readers. It’s just part of a concerted effort to improve reading among their students.

The program has been running in Durham since early October. Brewer said there were “fairly significant gains” for at least 10 of the 16 students in the pilot. She said other students were absent and their progress was still being monitored.

“After four weeks, we’re seeing positive effects,” Brewer said. “And we hope that over time that will only grow, and we have successful readers in the classrooms.”

Adults cavort while students take part in virtual tutoring sessions at Durham Elementary in Tigard, Oregon on November 7, 2022.  Durham is one of several schools across the country to offer the Ignite!  Reading program that uses one-to-one tutoring to help students read.

Adults cavort while students take part in virtual tutoring sessions at Durham Elementary in Tigard, Oregon on November 7, 2022. Durham is one of several schools across the country to offer the Ignite! Reading program that uses one-to-one tutoring to help students read.



She plans to expand the program to third graders who will need to catch up later this year.

At first, Brewer wasn’t sure whether to give students more “screen time” during the day or after months of Zoom during distance learning.

“I would prefer to be face to face,” she said. “What I do realize, though, is that the digital world is something that’s now part of our norm with kids, and I see kids just really focusing on their online tutors. And it’s like a normal, everyday experience.”

She wasn’t sure if the students would engage initially, but with the individual attention and focus they have. She said students in the program develop self-esteem through reading.

“They don’t give up right away, they try to do really hard things and they insist. We’re just there to see them build those confidence skills that lead to more reading,” Brewer said.

Districtwide, Tigard-Tualatin Assistant Superintendent Lisa McCall said she will oversee the pilot to see if the students become confident readers and catch up on 1.5 years of reading growth.

“We haven’t talked about expanding to other elementary schools yet. However, other TTSD schools will have an opportunity to explore what Ignite could do for them.” McCall said in a message to OPB.

Brewer said she is grateful for district funds to try and learn from something new.

“What a wonderful opportunity for leadership to see if this is something that will really impact our kids in Durham,” Brewer said.

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