Sometimes the lesson takes a while to sink in, and it takes a persistent teacher to get the concept across to a pupil.
As a former teacher and principal and now director of a tutoring center, Jan Link has seen that in her students. And she and project partner Larry Wewel, are seeing that persistence is still needed to get their point across to lawmakers. Both have tried for a few years now to get the state to participate in a tutoring pilot project that both believe will make a difference for students in the sixth through eighth grades.
Link, who founded a tutoring center in Kirkland and is now director of the nonprofit Academic Link Outreach, which has been pursing supporting legislation for a pilot project, with financial support from the state, corporations and community, to offer beyond-the-school-day tutoring opportunities for middle school students.
Called learning labs, the tutoring would be open after school until 6 p.m. and would typically use a middle school’s library or computer lab, where students would have access to the internet. Led by a paid director, the labs would depend on volunteers — high school and college students, parents and seniors — to provide tutoring and other assistance. The labs also would serve as a resource for parents seeking assistance to help their children at home.
Two years ago the hope was that the state would allocate $1.5 million to fund the pilot project throughout the state. When that didn’t garner enough support, Link and Wewel reduced the scope last year to establish the learning labs in all 33 of Snohomish County’s middle schools and sought $600,000 annually. Again, no funding was allocated.
This year they hoped to get the state to match corporate and community support with $240,000 for two years. With the Legislature scheduled to end its regular session Thursday, state funding again does not appear likely, even after the state’s revenue forecast said it could expect an additional $1.3 billion in tax receipts over the next three years.
With hopes they can eventually prove the value of the program to lawmakers, Link and Wewel say they have found partners in two county school districts, Edmonds and Mukilteo, and will establish the learning labs by the start of the next school year this fall. Mukilteo School District is providing space for a learning lab at Olympic View Middle School, while Edmonds School District will offer the program at Alderwood, Brier Terrace, College Place and Meadowdale middle schools.
The Legislature has taken significant steps in recent years to increase funding for K-12 schools, with a particular focus on K-3 students, where the investment can have greater benefits in later years. But additional help is needed among middle school students in the sixth through eighth grades before they reach the high school level and the stakes for success become even more crucial.
Only two of the state’s 295 school districts achieved 80 percent or more of their eighth-grade students passing the state assessment in math during the 2016-17 school year; only six of those same districts had 80 percent or more of their eighth-graders meeting the standard in reading.
While assessment rates vary school by school, one constant among all districts is a lower testing success rate for those students who participate in the free-or-reduced lunch program, typically from lower-income families, students who could be a focus for the learning labs.
The tutoring offered by the learning labs can give students the additional time with a subject, and the coaching they need, to learn concepts in math, reading, writing and more and begin to find pride in their abilities, develop a desire to learn more and be prepared for high school, college and career.
With the commitment from the Edmonds and Mukilteo school districts and the programs up and running in their middle schools, by this time next year state legislators might begin to understand, too.