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Detroit — A Michigan nonprofit is trying to raise $33 million to send hundreds of literacy tutors to 10,000 students in Detroit high schools who are not reading at grade level.

The company's tutoring methods, which is one-on-one reading intervention program, can increase a student's reading by a grade level or higher in an average of six weeks, Beyond Basics co-founder and CEO Pamela Good said.

"All of our children need to learn to read, but the real, immediate emergency is in our high schools," Good said. "There is a tremendous number of kids who can't read. They need one-on-one attention. Because once kids graduate, it’s a life sentence for them."

Good estimates that 10,000 of the district's 12,000 high school students would benefit from tutoring and that up to 50% of high school students are two or more grade levels behind.

Test data from the 2017-18 school year shows only 12.9% of Detroit's eighth-graders were proficient or higher on the state's reading test, compared with 42.8% statewide.

For the reading and writing portion of the SAT in 2017-18, 31% of the district's 11th-graders were proficient or higher, compared with 57.8% statewide.

Most Michigan school districts have put a focus on literacy intervention for elementary school children ahead of the state's third-grade reading and retention law, which goes into effect this fall and could result in an estimated 4,500 third-grade students being held back.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said last school year the district's focus was improving core literacy curriculum at the K-8 level and generally improving intervention for struggling readers.

This year that focus will go deeper through the expansion of literacy intervention training at the K-8 level, Vitti said.

"Our gap right now is at the high school level," Vitti said. "Next year, we will also implement a new core literacy curriculum at the high school level. We asked Beyond Basics to focus on high school literacy intervention to provide more support at the high school level as we focus more on the K-8 level."

The campaign calls for reaching 2,000 students this school year, 3,000 in the 2020-21 school year and 4,000 in the 2021-22 school year.

Beyond Basics has worked at Mumford High School in the past and depending on the funds raised, additional schools and students would be selected based on need. 

Vitti said the district has adopted new core grade-level materials for Grades 9-12 that will be implemented in the fall.

"This will be used for all students. Beyond Basics will help us intervene with high school readers that are significantly below grade level," Vitti said.

Beyond Basics opened up a Family Literacy Center last fall at the Durfee Innovation Society, a former DPSCD building near the Boston-Edison district, that drew in children ages preK-12 and adults for tutoring assistance.

Jerushah Williams of Detroit brought her eight home-schooled children into the center for help last spring. The children, who ranged in age from five to 16, were assessed and began tutoring immediately. Some suffered from dyslexia and others struggled to focus, she said.

After four days a week of tutoring over six weeks for their first session, the children’s total movement was 12.1 grade levels combined, with two grade levels being the average grade level movement, program officials said.

One of their children improved four levels in reading and improved his writing as well, she said.

"It's really been a great help for them. They have been excelling so much," Williams said. "Kids that were not confident readers — they could read but not confidently — are now more confident."

Beyond Basics has raised $1.7 million so far for the high school campaign and is starting recruitment of tutors who it will train.

Good estimates she will need 250 tutors to reach 10,000 students who spend an average of six weeks in the program. The average cost per student is $3,000.

"It really is a new day drawing attention to the crisis, pointing to a solution, and now it's up to the community to support this work. This is solvable," Good said.

The funding is a necessary first step, Good said, but volunteers are needed to read to students once they’ve been tutored and to provide mentoring and enrichment activities to encourage a lifelong love of learning.

"Once we demonstrate success with high school students in Detroit, a literate Detroit becomes a beacon of light for our nation," Good said. "This investment in our children will benefit all of us and create a workforce that is desperately needed."

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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