Seeds of Literacy
With the astute attention from skilled volunteers and an exceptional program design, Seeds of Literacy maintains student retention rates that are nearly double the national average among adult literacy programs.
Unique Curriculum and Individualized Attention Are Keys to Seeds of Literacy’s Model
In 1997, the Congregation of St. Joseph honored its 125 years of service to the Diocese of Cleveland by providing start-up funds to an organization that incorporated its ministry: Seeds of Literacy. After its humble beginnings offering one-on-one tutoring to a handful of participants, Seeds established roots as a faith-based nonprofit in 2005 and now serves over 1,200 students—more than the average high school—with the help of over 225 volunteer tutors. Seeds’ services extend to adults ages 18 to over 70 years. It is accredited by ProLiteracy, the only nationally accredited adult literacy program in the region and one of only two in the State of Ohio. Seeds has open enrollment, year-round classes, and incorporates technology into their curriculum. This nonprofit also offers learning disability testing, assistance with the transition to higher education or the workforce, and partnerships with other human service organizations to meet additional student needs.
One of Seeds of Literacy’s main effectiveness factors is its creative curriculum. Seeds designed its own curriculum, basing it on the five sections of the high school equivalency exam (GED test). The curriculum is skill-based, breaking concepts and subject areas down and integrating measurable skills with each. Seeds finds that this works well with students, many of whom become easily frustrated and overwhelmed with long-term goals.
Another unique feature of Seeds’ programmatic design is its tutoring program. Other adult literacy and GED programs may feature one-to-one tutoring, but Seeds’ structure is different: there, any tutor can work with any student at any time. All class work, homework, practice tests, and assessments are kept in a student folder which remains on site. Students are connected with tutors by site coordinators, who are degreed educational professionals that oversee each class session. The site coordinators create an Individualized Education Plan with each student based on their initial assessment at registration. Student needs are matched with tutor abilities. Tutors may work with the same student, but more often work with a variety of students. This benefits both students and tutors, in that no matter who attends a particular class session, someone will be able to help or be helped by them. Working with different tutors also offers students exposure to a wide range of teaching styles and specialties, while still providing individualized attention.
Bonnie Entler, Seeds’ Executive Director, says the one-on-one tutoring is critical to the participants’ academic success. “Two adults sitting down to figure out an algebra problem is vastly different than a teacher standing in front of a seated class, telling them about a new concept,” she says. “The Seeds method puts the student on a more equal footing with their tutor.” This is something she reports that the students notice, respect, respond to, and comment on. “Students continue to tell us that working individually with a tutor makes all the difference. They feel empowered to ask questions, gain confidence in their ability to learn, and are motivated by the individual attention,” Entler says.
Some students even comment that this is the first time that anyone has been interested in how they are doing academically. “We do not have a rubric for measuring compassion,” she adds, “but when tutors respect the dignity of each student and show genuine concern, it positively impacts student progress.”
Among adult literacy programs, Seeds of Literacy’s outcomes are far beyond national averages:
- Student retention rates are 59%, nearly double the national average of 33%;
- Graduation rates are 7%, nearly double the national average of 4%; and
- 78% of students gain and master a new skill in reading or math.
In addition to the unique curriculum and individualized program design, other key factors that contribute to Seeds’ success include:
- Volunteer recruitment and retention: Seeds maintains postings on 14 online volunteer sites; sends recruitment letters and bulletin announcements to 1,600 area churches of all denominations three times per year; and attends community events throughout the year at which they promote involvement in the mission. They now leverage volunteer talent for direct service (tutoring), administrative roles (finance, clerical, fundraising), and maintenance (cleaning/light maintenance) support. In 2012, volunteers gave Seeds over 8,300 hours of service. Entler says that “volunteers remain with the organization, often for years, and have told us they value their experience here because they feel they are making a difference in the lives of our students.”
- Creative Partnerships: Since 2005, Seeds has collaborated with several organizations in a variety of roles. Seeds provides job opportunities for clients of Court Community Service, Work Experience Placement, and Vocational Works in the areas of housekeeping, student recruitment, clerical work, program support (grading and assessment), administration (reception, data entry) and other tasks. Seeds has also offered internships to students of surrounding universities. Various organizations provide in-service trainings to Seeds staff, volunteers, and students on such topics as higher education, specialized training, employment opportunities, and health and wellness. These partners save Seeds’ employee costs, raise community awareness of Seeds, and provide students with connections to their next steps.