By Courtney Hibler
Early childhood education majors at Youngstown State University are offering their time and growing expertise to students in the Youngstown City School District.
Project PASS, Penguin Assistants for Student Success, an idea developed by YSU President Jim Tressel, was implemented at YCS in 2015. The program is designed to help YCS students reach the third grade guaranteed literacy level, with the help of YSU education students.
Kristen Italiano, part-time literacy faculty and Project PASS coordinator, said the program is linked to field work that is part of required reading courses for the licensure of YSU students.
Italiano said YSU students are able to have authentic field work in real time and practice strategies they’re learning in class while helping the students.
“This is a team of forward thinking people and allows our YSU students to get a headstart into who they are as a teacher,” she said.
At the beginning of the semester, YSU education students are required to do an assessment to measure where YCS students are with their literacy skills. Throughout the semester, the students attempt to build their skills.
Mary Lou DiPillo, associate dean of the Beeghly College of Education, said students are reassessed to see how far their growth has come at the end of the semester.
A fluency assessment is implemented for YCS students to help the growth teachers and YSU students wish to see in the children.
“Fluency is a gateway to comprehension, and fluent readers usually understand more of what they’re reading,” DiPillo said.
She said YSU is thankful for having a school partner continuously cooperating with the tutors that come in and help.
Project PASS also has a partnership with the 2nd & 7 Foundation. This nonprofit literacy-based foundation is located in Columbus, Ohio, and is connected through President Tressel.
DiPillo said the foundation was developed by three student athletes from The Ohio State University, who wanted to promote reading in young students by providing books and positive role models.
“They write character-based children’s books with the theme of tackling illiteracy,” Italiano said.
An ongoing donation from this foundation has been made to YSU, including thousands of books to help YCS students during their tutoring sessions.
Timothy Filipovich, YCS chief of accountability and assessment, said the interaction between YSU and YCS students is positive and rewarding.
“They’ve become exposed to something they may not have been exposed to before,” Filipovich said.
Students have a 16-week period to improve their literacy skills and reach the third grade guarantee. If this guarantee isn’t reached, other options become available.
At the start of summer 2018, 69 students did not make the third grade guarantee. Through summer school, alternative assessments and interventions, the number dropped to 25.
Filipovich said intensive intervention is provided the first few weeks of school for students not reaching the third grade guarantee level.
“We started this program to help with this guaranteed level,” Filipovich said. “Programs like this don’t just happen unless there are people who have a passion for this.”
More information about Project PASS can be found at: http://projectpass.weebly.com.