Law students help Tucson kids raise test scores

By Holly Wells
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

UA students who want to help improve test scores at a local elementary school will have the chance to volunteer at an after school program next semester.

Since a UA law student started the program this semester, three UA students have been volunteering after school at Los Ranchitos elementary school in Tucson helping fifth graders with their reading.

Josh Baker, a first-year law student who taught at Los Ranchitos for two years before going back to school, started the program because he wanted to help improve test scores at the school.

Baker, who got his undergraduate degree at the UA, said the three UA students spend an hour a day three days a week at the elementary school teaching 12 students.

He said he set up the program because after he decided to go to law school, he still wanted to be involved at Los Ranchitos, which frequently has low standardized test scores.

"It's good to give people interested in education the experience to see what teaching is like, and the school could use the help," he said. "The first year can be pretty terrifying, so I'm trying to throw them in and make them completely independent. I give them my lesson plans and help them prepare, but they're on their own once they get in the classroom."

The main purpose of the group is to support the kids in their reading, Baker said.

"While the kids are reading, the students walk around and listen and give them tips and reading strategies. We want to get them excited about reading. The more you can get kids to read, the more likely they are to be life-long readers," he said.

The fifth graders who were put into the program were not reading at their grade level at the beginning of the semester, Baker said.

Nina Padula, an undeclared sophomore who is involved in the program, said she doesn't think this is true any longer.

"One kid started out as really not being a good reader and I think he's grown and improved a lot," she said. "The kids are great and we just help them with reading and understanding."

Theresa Stone, a fifth grade teacher at Los Ranchitos, has three of her students in the after school program and said she has also noticed a difference.

"The kids are more confident now. For many of them, this was the first time they've read all the way through a chapter book, and that's a big accomplishment," she said.

Stone said the students in the program are actually excited about staying after school. She credits Baker for bringing the excitement by selecting high interest books and planning hands-on activities for the students.

For example, Stone said some of the kids in the group are reading "The Hatchet and Stone" and the UA students had a weaving activity planned to correspond with the book.

"The kids love that kind of stuff. It gets students involved," she said.

Padula said after going through the program she knows she wants to work with kids in the future.

"It's been a lot of fun and I really enjoy doing it. Going to an underprivileged school and giving kids a different perspective on reading has been really rewarding," she said.

Baker, who doesn't go to the school with the three students, said he's impressed with the students' work so far.

"It's a big commitment on their part," he said. "It's mutually beneficial. The education college has a great resource to help local schools, and after-school programs are needed because many schools are under-funded."

Baker said he hopes to continue the program next semester and is looking for more students who are interested in being involved. He said he would be sending out an e-mail about the program on the education Listserv. Baker said students from other majors who are interested can e-mail him at