College Students Teach While Learning Through Ignite Fellowship
Seeing young students who have been struggling to read have that ‘ah-ha’ moment when comprehension clicks into place has been a rewarding experience for two college students participating in Teach for America Idaho’s Ignite tutoring program.
April 14, 2023
Ignite is a high-dosage remote tutoring program aimed at helping elementary school students whose reading skills are lagging catch up, especially in the wake of the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The program is national in scope but is administered separately by each TFA region.
It’s also a pipeline for college students interested in becoming TFA corps members after graduating. Nationally, just over half of Ignite tutors who are college seniors apply to become TFA corps members. And they are accepted into TFA at a rate four times higher – about 80 percent – than the average applicant.
In Idaho, 19 Ignite fellows from across the country are working with third- and fourth-graders at Future Public School, a charter school in Garden City with a highly diverse student body. About 20 students participate in Ignite. They arrive at school at 8 a.m. four days each week and get 45 minutes of intensive, online help from tutors. That amounts to three extra hours of literacy support each week.
“All the research around what helps close the opportunity gap for kids shows that high-quality tutoring has the best outcome,” said Heather Efaw, Future’s assistant principal. “We are really excited by the opportunity to partner with TFA on this project.”
Ignite fits Future’s mission well. “Equity is an important value to our school and to our team, and so this allows us to meet the needs of kids who may need just a little extra support with literacy,” Heather said. “They just need a little bit of extra support to be able to close the gap between where they're at and their grade level.”
Samantha (Sam) Curra, a senior at Florida International University, said participating in Ignite with Future has validated her commitment to entering the teaching profession. She will become a TFA corps member this summer, teaching middle school life sciences in San Antonio, Tex.
“It has been fulfilling to help students improve significantly in attaining words and in reading comprehension,” Sam said. “As a college student interested in the field of education, this has been a great experience.”
Sam said TFA Idaho has provided extensive support as she has learned to become an adept tutor. She also worked with Ignite last school year, tutoring students in Jackson, Miss. She said that while she also enjoyed that experience, she has found the Idaho team’s support to be more robust.
“It has been fulfilling to help students improve significantly in attaining words and in reading comprehension. As a college student interested in the field of education, this has been a great experience.”
“TFA provides us with modules, and each module focuses on a different aspect of pedagogy,” she said. “That might be culturally sensitive teaching, or social-emotional learning.” She described the modules as detailed and informative, as well as filled with links to external resources that provide further information.
Before she started working with students at Future, Sam also participated in two orientation calls with TFA and school staff. “They gave me a lot of insight into how the program works and how this particular school works, which was very beneficial because every school is different,” she said.
Her takeaway after almost two years with Ignite? “This type of tutoring is something that should be applied to every school, regardless of the socioeconomic background that the students come from,” she said.
Lourdes Quenga is another Ignite tutor working with students from Future Public School. A native of Guam, Lourdes is finishing the final requirements for her undergraduate degree from Central Washington University.
She has found working with Future students rewarding, because the school’s unique culture encourages students to be open to new ideas and experiences. “I just loved interacting with the students. They can do the work, and they’re so spirited and wanting to learn more and that's what pushes me to do my best for them.”
“I just loved interacting with the students. They can do the work, and they’re so spirited and wanting to learn more and that's what pushes me to do my best for them.”
Lourdes wants to be a social worker specializing in children. While she hasn’t ruled out a stint as a TFA corps member, she is still exploring other options. Whatever she decides, she said Ignite has left an indelible impression on her.
“This program is such an amazing opportunity for people who want to help make an impact for students,” she said. “Students who come in lacking confidence are no longer afraid to read aloud in front of others. That is a really big step.”
This story was written by freelance writer, Alan Gottlieb.