Deadline looming for students to apply for free tutoring

FRESNO, Calif.

Students at Valley schools have until Friday to submit applications for "Supplemental Educational Services" or S.E.S.

The program is designed to help struggling students in Title 1 schools achieve progress. The services offer students extra help in academic subjects such as reading, language arts and mathematics outside of their regular school day; before school, after school or on weekends.

At Fresno Unified not all of the eligible students are taking advantage of the program.

Tammy Townsend oversees the S.E.S. program with the district. She said, last year, more than 11,000 students applied to the program, of those just over 5,000 applicants were accepted, but less than half of them used up all of the hours they were given.

She said, as part of the program, Fresno Unified is required to set aside 6.5 million dollars or about 20% of its budget to provide the free services to students. That equates to about $1250 a year per student or, depending on which provider the parent choses, about 30 hours of one-on-one sessions with a tutor per year.

But district officials are frustrated with the program. Deputy Superintendent Ruth Quinto said, providers are certified through the state, rather than the district, and not all of the 63 companies on list provide the same quality of services.

"Unfortunately there really are now accountability measures for how effective those services are, there is no prescription of what those tutoring services entails," she said. "Unfortunately all a service provider has to do is get certified through the state and then they can determine whatever they would the tutoring service to include. It could be a phone call, a quick service at the door, it could be a sit down session at a library, it could be as simple as providing a student with an electronic device and telling them to log in."

She believes that is a contributing factor to why so many students drop out of the program before they're finished. She suggests parents do their homework and research the company they chose before they send their child to a tutor.

For example, Reading and Beyond is one of the providers who has a more than 10 year working relationship with the district. According to its website, it was also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for improving literacy rates among children.

Other companies on the list include Sullivan Learning Systems, Cullinan Education Center and Amazing A Academics. Certified teachers with Fresno Unified are also providing the free services this year and the district is trying to get the word out.

"We've got an opportunity to ensure that those after school services fit in the continuum of services for both during the regular school day and then there's leverage or relation to what's being done in those after school hours," said Quinto. "We will make very specific appointments with those students for various times throughout the week, to meet with them after school, on site and our certified teachers will be the ones meeting with those students."

She said, students of low-income families, generally those who receive free or reduced-price lunch, who attend Title 1 schools that have not made adequate yearly progress for at least three years, are eligible for free tutoring services. School districts are required to notify families if their children are eligible for SES tutoring services, but if parents are unsure whether their student qualifies they can contact the district offices.

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