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Issue Date:  March 25, 2005

Afterschool specials: Catholic schools asked to take on tutoring

Catholic News Service

Catholic schools might often feel relegated to the children’s table when it comes to taking part in federal programs and receiving federal funds, but it does not have to be that way, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Spellings, who attended a meeting of Catholic education lobbyists Feb. 28 in Washington, praised Catholic schools for their participation in voucher programs, but she also urged them to be more involved in a program that receives far less attention: supplemental services.

The term “supplemental services” essentially means tutoring programs outside school that are currently a key part of the No Child Left Behind legislation aimed at improving public schools. The legislation, signed into law three years ago, stipulates that students in failing public schools are eligible for tutoring programs offered during nonschool hours.

State education agencies are required to identify organizations, including nonprofit and for-profit groups, public schools, charter schools, private schools, public or private higher institutions and faith-based organizations that meet state requirements and can provide tutoring services. School districts pay for tutoring programs through federally allocated funds.

Spellings, who has been in her post since Jan. 20, urged about 70 Catholic school representatives attending a Washington conference to “help students not on your everyday attendance lists” through these tutoring and afterschool enrichment programs.

“Thousands of students in your communities could benefit from the knowledge and skill of your teachers,” she said. “We just need you to open your doors just as you have always done for children in need.”

Spellings spoke at the three-day gathering of education leaders from state Catholic conferences, diocesan offices and Catholic school parent associations attending Congressional Advocacy Days sponsored by the Department of Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Spellings said she knows firsthand about the good work of Catholic schools, since one of her daughters attends a Catholic high school in Virginia. Her other daughter attends a public middle school.

In her remarks, the education secretary noted that some Catholic schools have already been involved in providing supplemental services, such as Xavier University in Louisiana, which currently provides tutoring in reading for second- and third-graders at a New Orleans public school.

“I hope more Catholic groups will follow Xavier’s example. We need your help,” she said.

Jack Klenk, director of the Office of Non-Public Education for the Department of Education, told Catholic News Service that some Catholic schools might not be participating because they do not know enough about it, or they have not gone through the process of applying and getting approved to offer such services.

Oblate Fr. Bill Davis, deputy education secretary for the bishops’ conference, said he does not think many Catholic schools are offering these supplemental services, although some have looked into it and are trying to figure out how they can get involved. He also pointed out that many schools simply do not have the space or the staffing to take on the extra workload of tutoring because they are using old facilities or running afterschool programs of their own.

The tutoring program run by Xavier University, called Xavier Reads, sends college students to a New Orleans public school for 40 sessions with the school’s second- and third-graders. The program was volunteer-based when it started two years ago, and for the past year it has been part of No Child Left Behind supplemental services.

Kim Reese, the university’s assistant dean of students and director of the university’s Center for Student Leadership, which sponsors the tutoring program, said the program has been a success because of the partnership between the university and the public school principal.

She stressed that even though the tutors get paid, their work is essentially a service that makes them “in tune with what’s happening” in schools and helps the community. Simply by their presence, she said, they also become mentors for many of the students they see each week.

Reese said initially the university thought it might make money from the program, but now it “doesn’t look that way.” Instead, it helps the university in other ways, she noted, by forming “students into leaders who are civically responsible.”

National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 2005

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