The Rutgers Reading Clinic at North Plainfield

The Rutgers Reading Clinic, an after-school one-on-one tutoring program for struggling elementary school students, was more successful than anyone had imagined.  The program not only improved the students’ reading and writing capabilities, but also enabled students to build a strong sense of self-esteem and love for learning. The program was designed by Dr. Susan Dougherty, Assistant Professor and Dr. Lesley Morrow, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and Co-Director of the Center for Literacy Development.  
Traditionally, university sponsored reading clinics are housed on-campus, but the Rutgers Reading Clinic, was housed right on site at an elementary school in North Plainfield.  Traditional on-campus reading clinics suffer from problems related to access for the children and families who need them most.  The North Plainfield program took place at the school that the students attended and it did not charge a fee. This enabled students to work in a familiar setting without the worry of transportation and loss of time. The first year of the program was funded through the GSE’s GAP grant program.
During the spring 2013 semester, ten students from North Plainfield elementary school who were below grade level in reading or writing were paired with a certified teacher who they met with after school for one hour twice a week. The teachers were recruited from the district, were retired teachers, or currently taught outside of the school district. Teachers participated in a professional development session led by the researchers prior to the start of the program and were equipped with a tool kit, which included testing and teaching materials. The teachers were provided with a basic format for tutoring and materials tailored for their students. 
Throughout the course of the tutoring, teachers used instructional methods that were evidenced-based and known to promote student learning, engagement, and motivation. The results were impressive. In an analysis of the data of literacy scores from the beginning to the end of the program significant increases  were shown in their reading abilities as measured with a variety of assessments. The students not only diligently completed their work, but became eager to learn while forming tight partnerships with their teachers and each other. The program saw an improvement in reading level, fluency, and comprehension for all participating students and received high praise from the children’s classroom teachers, parents, and the district administration. Outside of the program, students’ overall attitudes toward school showed great improvement with an increase in participation, homework completion, and even improvements in regular attendance.
The students spread word of how much they enjoyed the program, referred to their teachers as “the best in the world” and said that they felt like the teachers were part of their families.  Close friendships among the children were also formed during the course of the program as students socialized during the snack time before each session. News of the Rutgers Reading “Club” (coined by many students) continued to spread, leading students outside of the program asking to join.
Following the completion of the program, teachers, students, and their families gathered to celebrate and recognize the students’ achievements. The highlight of the event featured the students selecting and reading aloud a story demonstrating their progress over the 12-week program. The students, even those who were extremely shy at the beginning of the program, read with confidence and impressed their peers, teachers, and families. Both students and teachers were awarded certificates from Rutgers to commend them on their hard work and accomplishments. In addition, the principal reported that all of the Rutgers Reading Clinic students received some recognition for improvement in reading and writing at the school’s end-of-the-year awards ceremony, 
Dr. Morrow and Dr. Dougherty are thrilled with the success of the program and its very positive reception in North Plainfield.  They believe that it demonstrates the power of developing positive social partnerships between students and teachers who are working one-on-one to remediate learning challenges.  The program’s success is further evidenced by the decision of the North Plainfield school district to continue the program this year without the help of Rutgers.
The Rutgers Reading Clinic strengthened participating students’ reading and writing skills and helped build self-esteem and a positive attitude toward learning. For teachers, the program was a rewarding experience that shed light on the importance of one-on-one attention and innovative teaching practices. Finally for the community, the program exceeded all expectations and led to a wave of positive support from parents and administration as well as a rising interest from other students. The Rutgers Reading Clinic , which began a way to assist struggling students in reading and writing, evolved into an inspiring program that paved the way toward strong relationships between teachers and students, improved student self-esteem, and promoted a love for learning.
Dr. Morrow and Dr. Dougherty would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the participating teachers.
Marilyn T. LaMarca
Stefanie Martin
Melissa Mejia
Suzanne Parmelee
Kristina Servidio
Joan Smith
Michelle Tafuri
They would also like to thank Principal Cathy Kobylarz  of Stony Brook Elementary School and Superintendent Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum (GSE Ed.M. ‘84, Ed.D.‘90) for their involvement in the program.
Click here to learn more about the Center for Literacy Development.