With $250,000 Grant, Richard King Mellon Foundation Fortifies Asset Inc.’s Innovative Tutoring Program in Pittsburgh

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As K-12 students in some of the Pittsburgh region’s most under-resourced communities recover from pandemic-related learning loss, a generous $250,000 grant awarded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation to ASSET Inc. will help them access free, high-impact tutoring services, while advancing ASSET’s leadership role spearheading this kind of tutoring throughout Southwest Pennsylvania.

One goal of this grant is to support ASSET’s PALS (Partnerships to Advance Learning in STEM) program by preparing at least 100 new tutors to deliver academic support to at least 125 K-12 students in a virtual, one-on-one or small group setting at least three times a week.  Research shows such high-impact tutoring effectively addresses COVID-19 learning loss, accelerating learning recovery and academic achievement for students most affected.

In addition, the grant helps ASSET lead the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative’s region-wide tutoring initiative.  To drive this initiative, ASSET has formed a coalition to coordinate tutoring efforts to improve the quality and availability of tutors.

“Community engagement is at the heart of PALS.  ASSET has a long history of convening education and industry partners to effect systemic change and improve learning,” said Sarah Toulouse, Executive Director, ASSET Inc.  “We are thankful to the Richard King Mellon Foundation and to the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative for recognizing our ability to develop creative solutions to the critical issue of learning recovery and then collaborate with like-minded partners to implement and expand those solutions.”

Current coalition members include A+ Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Homeless Children’s Education Fund, Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center, Latino Community Center, Hello Neighbor, Open Literacy, Computer Reach, United Way of SW PA, The Pittsburgh Project and H.O.P.E. for Tomorrow, among others.

How It Works

ASSET utilizes high-impact tutoring to tackle learning loss and recovery on two fronts.  First, among students from under-resourced communities who have been most impacted by COVID-19 school disruptions and are most at risk of falling behind academically.  Recent data from the Regional Educational Laboratory Program shows that in Pittsburgh Public Schools there was substantial increase in course failure during the pandemic, especially among economically disadvantaged and/or chronically absent students.  ASSET’s PALS program serves these students by making sure that they – and other students recognized as underserved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education – receive the supports they need to develop their full academic potential.

The second aspect involves preservice educators currently studying to become teachers.  Their ability to fulfill field experience course requirements also has been affected by school closures and disruptions.  ASSET is working with area colleges and universities to integrate tutoring field experiences into curriculum and course requirements, in effect, training their pre-service teachers to become tutors.  Participating colleges and universities thus far include Carlow University, Duquesne University, and University of Pittsburgh Johnstown. Individual students from Juniata College, East Stroudsburg University, Marywood University, Eastern University and Westminster College also have participated.

“Our ultimate objective is twofold:  to provide free tutoring to any student or family who wants it, and to offer teachers the kind of professional development support that bolsters confidence and self-efficacy in the learning setting, while building the educator workforce pipeline,” said ASSET’s Toulouse.

A recent study by RAND reports that nearly one in four educators planned to leave their jobs by the end of the 20–21 school year, while other studies have found that new teachers, in particular, have a high attrition rate, due primarily to stress.  An antidote to this is the kind of continuous professional learning and development that PALS and other ASSET services provide, which research shows play a critical role in retaining preservice teachers.

”We know that the pandemic has impacted all students, but especially Black and Brown students in our communities. What ASSET is doing to help coordinate a response that helps students and future teachers is a critical piece in getting our students back on track,” said James Fogarty, Executive Director of A+ Schools and member of the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation funding amplifies recent grants made by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments that support ASSET’s PALS tutoring initiative, enabling the strategic expansion of the program to support pre-service teachers at Carlow University to deliver high-impact tutoring to students at out-of-school-time (OST) programs in Pittsburgh’s Northside, Lincoln-Larimer, and Sheraden neighborhoods.

ASSET founded PALS in Spring 2021 as a crisis response pilot program in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative, A+ Schools and Duquesne University.  Since then, it has grown steadily.  Today, some 79 preservice educators from eight Pennsylvania universities have provided more than 600 no-cost tutoring sessions to 118 Allegheny County learners.

Founded in 1994, ASSET, Inc. is an educational improvement organization headquartered in Pennsylvania that provides rigorous professional learning services for educators nationally. For more information visit, www.assetinc.org

Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. For more information visit, https://www.rkmf.org.

Story Credit: ASSET Inc./Newswise

Photo Credit: mego-studio/freepik