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New One-on-One Teaching Program Looks to Improve Reading Skills in Young Children

Fabrice Grover, CEO of Chapter One – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chapter One focuses on transforming children’s futures through a program that aims to provide one-on-one support to children struggling with reading. Chapter One began in the United States, but in 2018 they came to Canada, and while they aren’t in every province yet, the organization is primed for expansion to offer their unique services to even more children who could benefit from their high-impact tutoring system. “We’re a nonprofit and a Canadian registered charity, about five years old in Canada, and we are committed to transforming children’s futures by providing one-to-one reading support at the time kids need it the most,” said CEO Fabrice Grover. “The reason we’re doing this is because the data shows if kids aren’t reading at grade level by the end of grade three, they are four times less likely to graduate high school, and in Canada, there are about 100,000 kids every year who complete grade three unable to keep up with their reading in grade four. So if we know that those kids are then four times less likely to graduate and then have all of the challenges that is going to engender, it’s on us to try and give them a leg up, right when they’re first starting school and their pivotal first few years of school, because that’s when the gap is smallest. By the time they’re twelve, there’s this five-year gap that forms between kids who come into school with higher levels of literacy and those who come from less advantaged communities and homes where they’ve been exposed to fewer words, where parents have had less time to read with them.” According to the research data, a one-on-one approach is the way to go for these children. “In the states, the federal government is spending billions of dollars over several years to help children recover from pandemic learning loss and they are recommending high-impact tutoring, which is the kind of tutoring we do as the approach because it’s been shown to be so cost-effective and impactful. So what we’re doing is we’re providing trained, paid care professionals who come into schools and work one-on-one with kids, providing what’s called high-impact tutoring, which is short bursts of high-intensity literacy instruction. So it’s five-minute sessions, they happen with high frequency, and unlike conventional tutoring systems where you might have a group of kids seeing a specialist, or you have a specialist working with fewer numbers of kids, but for longer periods of time, this is high frequency, low duration, and these folks are recruited from the community, and they either come into the school in person or in some remote locations when we can’t find somebody, or the need is less because there’s a smaller school where they only need 1 hour of the ‘ELI’s’ time,” said Grover. “We call them ELI’s (early literacy interventionist time) and that person can actually dial into the classroom and do it remotely. But the key is to have a human, not some sort of robot or software program, but a human connect with a kid one-on-one, ideally three to five times a week for a five-minute sprint.” The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped the situation. “The pandemic has really done a number on high-need communities and exacerbated this problem, which existed long before the pandemic but is now deeper than ever. So the gap has widened between kids from families who could afford tutors during the lockdowns and whose kids received more support during that period, and the youngest children are the ones that suffered the most during the lockdowns. Because it’s hard to do remote instruction with a five or six-year-old, our program is optimized for kids in those early years, so this is an amazing opportunity,” said Grover. “And because it happens on the family’s smartphone when it’s happening in the home setting, you don’t need to worry about getting a kid in front of a computer at their scheduled time. You can do it in the back of a car, in a grocery lineup, wherever the family happens to be when they’ve scheduled the call, usually at the breakfast table or whatever, or after school, but it’s super flexible, it’s very easy, and the families usually love having this because then they can then see exactly what the child is working on.” Because of their age, the kids are at their ‘proximal zone of development’. “They’re right at the edge of their ability, and so they don’t get tired, and they have this caring, professional adult who understands how to work through the Phonics Foundation, pinpoint holes in the Phonics Foundation, help kids with that area of confusion so that they can catch up to their more advantaged peers who started school with higher levels of literacy, again, just by virtue of coming from that more privileged background,” said Grover. “So the mission of the organization is to close the reading gap by providing this essential support. We have recently started providing support at home for indigenous students on family smartphones for free, thanks to Jordan’s Principle, which guarantees that if an Indigenous child needs a service to be at the same level as non-indigenous kids, then that they should get that.” Currently, most of the Indigenous children involved in the program are from Qalipu, and in Newfoundland and Labrador alone, Chapter One is in several communities. “We have students from Burgeo, from Corner Brook, there are a few from Glenwood, St. George’s, Stephenville, so it looks there’s that initial push worked. There’s lots of room for schools that are interested to contact us and potentially learn more about the program and see if it would be a good fit,” said Grover. “What we do is we provide this supplemental support so it doesn’t replace anything that the schools are doing. It’s really designed to be in addition to what the teacher is doing in the classroom, but there’s a lot of transparency between what the ELI does and what the teacher is doing, so the teacher can see the data in real-time. Basically, as the kids are working with the ELI, their improvement and the areas of confusion are all tracked by the software and the teacher. It uses the teacher’s account, so the teacher then can see exactly which areas of confusion are with which students, and that the school’s own literacy folks can sort of tap into that. So there’s a lot of synergy, but it doesn’t require that the school or a school board change its pedagogy or its approach or anything like that, because the existing classroom practices continue as they are.” In large, randomized control trials, seven out of ten kids achieve Phonics benchmarks when they use Chapter One’s system by the end of kindergarten, compared to 32 percent in the control group. “It’s basically showing that these very conclusive results, that’s putting wind in our sails because school boards are looking for evidence-based approaches and this is one of the most exciting areas that has real evidence behind the impact that we’re able to achieve. So those are the sort of core programs, and then the other thing we’re doing is co-creating original storybooks with the communities that we serve. So right now, 90 percent of the kids in our program are Indigenous, we have about 1,700 kids in the program nationwide in seven provinces and territories. That’s growing very quickly. Our goal is to be coast to coast to coast by the end of, probably March of 2025,” said Grover. “Part of what I’m really excited about is this storybook initiative, which we started two years ago. We’ve co-created 33 original storybooks that celebrate themes important to the communities. They pick the themes, and then we hire Indigenous writers and illustrators to bring these stories to life, and we just help with the development of the story, the writing, and then we embed some of the original language of the communities into the storybooks. So we’re hiring multiple language revitalization leads from different parts of the country to help us translate the books into different languages and dialects, recording some of the words that appear in the language and embedding them into the platform. So this is part of what we’re calling the Global Free Library, which already exists online now. Basically, it’s a way for us to celebrate the diversity and strength of these Indigenous communities that are participating in our program, to give a voice to the communities and to celebrate the artistic talent that exists.” The Global Free Library will continue to grow. “For the purposes of building an even bigger and better global free library, we’re going to be creating another ten books this year. At a minimum, companies can sponsor the development of those books, but regardless, we’re going to keep building that collection,” said Grover. The fact that the company has grown so quickly in such a short amount of time is a source of pride. “We’ve grown more than ten times in the last five years, and we’re on track to, again, triple in the next two years. So it’s definitely explosive growth, and we have no problem meeting that need because the system is scalable, but what we need help with is getting the word out and making sure that folks know that this is available, and also finding more corporate sponsors to help pay for our team as it grows to meet this need,” said Grover “Jordan’s Principle will cover the cost of tutoring, but we obviously need folks to manage the program as it grows into different areas, so that’s an amazing opportunity for companies that have corporate social responsibility mandates that might include either an education pillar or a youth and children pillar, an Indigenous focus helping advance reconciliation, language revitalization. Obviously, the storybooks are helping with the community’s efforts towards language revitalization, and the sky’s the limit in terms of who we can help in each province. So wherever there is a need, we want to know about the folks who want to potentially partner with us so that we can help meet that need.” There are numerous ways to get involved. “If folks feel compelled to do something, they can ask their company to support this initiative, and then we can bring the program into their company and then they can serve as online reading volunteers. We don’t have the capacity at this stage to involve individuals if they’re not part of an entity that’s actually sponsoring the initiative, because that’s how we pay for all of the overhead associated with managing the volunteer program. So we don’t want to sort of open it as a rallying cry for everybody to call us and say, ‘hey, I want to serve as a tutor’ unless they’re in an organization that wants to support the initiative financially,” said Grover. “The Storybook Project has so much potential too, and with all of these language revitalization leads that we’re hiring, we’re going to be able to do this in different languages. So if there are language revitalization folks who read this, we’d love to talk to them about potentially translating some of our books into their languages and dialects. Also, if there are any principals or superintendents or even teachers that want to have a conversation about this, usually the way it works is we have a call with the decision makers at the school so they can understand how the model works and we can show them how successful this has been in other school districts across the country, and then we talk about how we can support any sort of classrooms where they have a large number of kids entering the school with a strong reading deficit that needs extra support. Teachers are stretched really thin, and it’s really hard for them to meet this need without additional support, so we’ve designed a system that is extremely cost-effective, that will provide the kind of one-on-one support that these kids need, and that will integrate really easily with whatever the school is already doing, requiring very little change management and very little effort on the school’s part, because we’ve designed it to be easy.”

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