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High Impact Tutoring Grant improves student performance at Fort Collins charter school

High Impact Tutoring Grant improves student performance at Fort Collins charter school

Tutor Brenna Freer works with students in French class at AXIS International Academy charter school.

Tutor Brenna Freer works with students in French class at AXIS International Academy charter school.

A grant that has allowed AXIS International Academy in Fort Collins to hire college students as tutors has helped 91% percent of students in the program improve their math skills in just one year, according to school officials.

AXIS International, a multilingual charter school, in 2021 received a $48,000 high-impact tutoring grant – which comes from House Bill 21-1234’s legislation that created the High Impact Tutoring Program to provide nearly $5 million a year for grants to be given to schools in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The Colorado State Board of Education also allocated a total $7 million in funding to support these grants over the same period.

“Obviously the pandemic … made a significant impact on some of the most vulnerable students in our learning community,” said Chen Hong, operations and program consultant at AXIS. “We want to support those students in catching up quickly, and we thought the program was a great opportunity to be able to provide targeted, high-quality tutoring to our disadvantaged students, and also enable them to overcome those challenges that they face.”

To be eligible for the grant, schools must keep individual learning groups small with no more than four students who meet at least three times a week during the regular school day. Additionally, the tutor must be highly qualified and the curricula must be of a high standard. 

 If high-impact tutoring is done correctly, learning can increase by as much as 15 months in a year’s time, according to a report on the first year of grant funding for High-Impact Tutoring in Colorado schools. This approach “has consistently yielded a significant positive impact on students from all backgrounds, including students furthest from opportunity,” the report says.

At AXIS International Academy, students are immersed in a dual-language experience. They study literacy, math and core knowledge for half of the school day in either Spanish, French or Mandarin and in English for the second half of the day.  

During the 2021-22 school year, 48 AXIS students who were at risk of falling behind  participated in high-impact tutoring for math. All participants were either learning English as a second language or were eligible to receive free and reduced-cost lunch - an indicator of poverty.

The charter school hired seven students from the foreign language department at Colorado State University as tutors, who worked with students for 30 minutes a day, four days per week, using the Math in Focus curriculum.

Hong described the partnership as a win-win. “It was a huge success because all of the CSU tutors have experience with a second language at CSU, so they are such an asset when they come into our building because all of our kids are learning second language,” she said.

Brenna Freer started tutoring at AXIS while she was finishing her degree in Economics and International Development at CSU. She has since graduated and now works as a substitute teacher at the school. She related to the students easily and empathized with them about how the pandemic disrupted their learning and social experiences.

At first, one student wouldn’t talk to Freer at all. She was shy but also hesitant to speak English because it wasn’t her first language.

Freer connected with her by emphasizing that they are both learning. She said to the student, “Hey, I am learning Spanish. You can tell because you know the language better than me. And you are learning math. Let's work together and teach each other.”

Eventually, the student opened up and by the end of the school year she had become more confident and engaged in learning. Freer hopes her influence helped foster a positive relationship with learning that will continue beyond elementary school.

Hong appreciates the support she’s received from the Colorado Department of Education to implement high-impact tutoring. Through regular meetings and communication, CDE provided valuable resources and ideas on different ways to execute the program.

“CDE has provided lots of flexibility and support to ensure that we are able to maximize our resources and run the programs more efficiently,” Hong said. “So, that was very helpful.”

 AXIS continues to try new approaches within the high-impact tutoring model to create the most effective program possible for their students. This school year AXIS was granted $79,200 and hired two full-time bilingual interventionists who are focusing on English literacy. Next year the school plans to try a combination model with both on-staff interventionists and CSU tutors working with students on math and English skills.

Freer said it was especially rewarding to hear that one of the struggling students she worked with who is now in sixth grade is taking a seventh-grade math class. 

“She not only caught up but excelled and so that was pretty exciting to hear,” she said. “I felt like I was able to make a real difference.”