Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

"He's real nice,” says Bobby, a second grader at Terrace Elementary School in Houston, about fourth-grader Jacob, who sits beside him. “Since getting into the program, I’ve learned a lot. I’m really better at reading.”

Jacob, responding to Bobby, says, “It’s just one of the funnest things I’ve ever done — being with my friends and a great tutee Bobby.”

The two boys, featured in a United Way video, are among 500 students in 15 Houston-area elementary schools participating in a peer-to-peer reading tutoring program, matching trained fourth- and fifth-grade tutors with second- and third-grade tutees. The program is supported by United Way of Greater Houston, a member of the local grade-level reading coalition.

“The relationship that develops between the two students who are paired is beautiful to watch,” Terrace Elementary Principal April Blanco says in the video. “As a result of the United Way program…our students have developed a love of reading. It’s very exciting to see them come out of their shells and blossom. They have become more verbal in class and leaders on the campus.”

Supported by the United Way since 2013, the program runs throughout the school year — during the day or in after- or before-school programs. It combines a curriculum developed by Learning Together, a North Carolina company, with support from United Way to ensure that the program is operated with fidelity.

Support includes providing two site coordinators who train the older students and oversee sessions, plus program materials, transportation and incentives, including providing 20 free books per student.

“Our program takes great raw material from Learning Together and provides services that at-risk schools need to make it work,” says Najah Callander of United Way. “The schools we wanted to be involved — where kids are struggling and in at-risk neighborhoods or in schools that didn’t have as many resources — could not afford to run this on their own.”

Surveys of teachers with participating students found that 94 percent reported that the tutoring improved students’ attitudes about reading and 83 percent reported improved reading skills among students. An in-depth evaluation, with analysis of grades and test scores, in addition to behavior referrals and survey data, is being conducted by Texas A&M University’s Education Research Center.

Both the tutor and the tutees are approximately one year behind in reading and both benefit from reading together, says Callander. The older students particularly benefit by being chosen to participate, beginning with a Leadership Academy at the start of the school year to learn how to tutor.

“We’re picking students for a leadership opportunity who never get chosen, who may be disconnected from school and we’re saying to them ‘We’re going to train you as a leader. You’re going to be a tutor to this little person,’” says Callander. “The kids become remarkable leaders. You start to see them really taking responsibility for their tutees.”

The tutors’ involvement is two hours weekly, compared with one hour for tutees. Tutors spend their first hour working with the site coordinator and peers to prepare a lesson plan and practice delivering it. During the second hour, they deliver the lesson to their tutee.

“As a tutor, they’re getting that information three times, so it gives them lots of practice, which for a struggling student is priceless,” says Callander. The training sessions also provide “a safe space,” rather than a classroom full of peers, for older struggling readers to ask questions and get additional help.

The younger students attend a Scholars Institute at the start of the program to discuss cooperation and what they want to get from tutoring. They, in turn, benefit from contact with older students who are excited about reading. “The second grader begins to really look up to the fourth grader,” says Blanco. “It’s amazing how close they become.” 

For more information, contact Najah Callander at 713-685-2456 or Photos: United Way of Houston; Publication Date: Spring 2015.  To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

Does your community have a tutoring program? If so, share your experience in the comments box!

Want more? Check out:

How Ames Iowa offers one-on-one individualized tutoring during the summer.

How Camden New Jersey provides tutoring to preschoolers.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

You need to be a member of The Huddle to add comments!

Join The Huddle


  • I love everything about this program. I look forward to hearing more about the evaluation.
This reply was deleted.