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Release: Immediate

EDITORS NOTE: Peggy Rowell, project supervisor for the University of Iowa's initiative in the America Reads Challenge, and a work-study student working as a tutor will be available to meet with the media from 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11 at Horace Mann Elementary School, 521 N. Dodge St., in Iowa City.

UI work-study students respond to 'Challenge,' work as reading tutors

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa work-study students are rising to the challenge of tutoring elementary school children this spring, responding to a call by President Clinton to help improve the reading skills of elementary school students.

UI students are fanning out to area elementary schools this month to work as reading tutors as part of the America Reads Challenge, continuing an initiative begun last fall.

The students are paid through the federal work-study program in a project coordinated jointly through the UI College of Education, the UI Office of the Vice President for Student Services, and the UI Office of Student Financial Aid.

Project Supervisor Peggy Rowell says the tutoring program is designed to give young readers a boost in their literacy skills while capitalizing on the abilities, interests and excitement of college students who want job experience.

"It is very rewarding to see the work that the students do," says Rowell. "The university students really feel happy about helping young children learn how to read. And the young children really enjoy having an older person spend time with them, giving them one-on-one attention in their reading."

In outlining the America Reads Challenge during his 1997 State of the Union address, Clinton proposed that 100,000 students in the federal work-study program serve as reading tutors for children in first, second, and third grades. He noted that 40 percent of U.S. children still have trouble reading by third grade.

Work-study is a form of financial aid in which eligible students are paid for work they do while completing their education. To participate, students must meet federally mandated eligibility guidelines.

The UI is one of more than 160 universities and colleges in the United States taking part in the project. The UI Office of Student Financial Aid has received more than $100,000 in work-study money for the America Reads Challenge program in the 1997-98 budget year.

Cindy Seyfer, assistant director of the UI Office of Student Financial Aid, says the America Reads Challenge also has a unique benefit for area schools. Typically under work-study rules, the organization receiving the student help must pay a portion of the students' wages.

That provision is waived under the America Reads Challenge.

"The program would not be as successful if schools were required to pay a portion of the tutors' wages since budget restrictions might limit their participation in the program," Seyfer says. "This really is a win-win situation for everyone."

During the UI's initial effort last fall, a total of 27 work-study students tutored 82 elementary students in five Iowa City schools. The UI students earned $6 an hour, working between 8 hours and 13 hours with their elementary charges.

Each UI student was paired with two to four children and met with each child for 30 minutes a session, two or three times a week.

Rowell hopes to recruit more eligible students to the program this spring. New tutors will be assigned to area schools in early February. Non work-study students are also invited to volunteer and participate in tutoring opportunities.

Students in the fall program represented a variety of majors from across the UI, most of whom were not education majors.

"The tutors all had a desire to work with children and were interested in helping them learn how to read," Rowell says. "All of them found this to be an enjoyable experience."

Cathy Roller, professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction and project director for the UI part of the project, says the America Reads Challenge includes an intensive training program that sets it apart from typical volunteer efforts.

Students have to complete a 25-hour training program in literacy education before they are assigned to work with young children. Each tutor works closely with individual schools.

During the fall semester 1997, UI students worked with school children at Longfellow, Horace Mann, Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Grant Wood elementary schools.

U of I students interested in the America Reads Challenge should call (319) 335-5613 for more information.