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High Impact Tutoring is Imperative to the Success of FORA’s Mission. Here’s Why:

With a mission to provide educational resources sufficient to guide refugees towards robust engagement in American civic life, FORA staff are tasked with the duty to fulfill over 100 academic needs all at once. This means FORA’s educational model must be flexible enough to adapt to students’ different learning needs and concrete enough to provide consistent and quality tutoring. 

Sometimes also known as High Dosage Tutoring, High Impact Tutoring (HIT) was first implemented by Illinois’ State Board of Education for tutoring in literacy and mathematics for students between grades three through eight. 

This year, the Biden Administration cited High Dosage Tutoring as a means to improve student achievement in 2024. 

At its core, HIT aims to target student’s needs while complimenting their school curriculum. Rooted in consistent learning and high quality materials, HIT has allowed FORA staff to identify students’ learning needs and assign material for students and tutors to consistently work with. 

This is key for refugee students who have endured severe gaps and interruptions in their formal education. 

“HIT is the best way to make-rapid large range because we are spending so much time on it,” Kathleen O’ Connor, FORA co-founder, FORA Director of Education and developmental psychologist, said. “Students come in for 10 hours a week, 48 weeks per year, which is close to 500 hours of tutoring per year.”

UNHCR estimates refugee children miss out on an average of three to four years of school during critical periods of development. 

At FORA, the educational backgrounds of students prior to their arrival to the US is largely uncertain. Some students have never had access to formal education, but others may have had informal access to education in refugee camps. For this reason, FORA’s goal is to foster an individualized tutoring environment to bridge the gap between students’ current academic level and their supposed grade level. 

“Students who are very behind can learn faster with a person responsive to their needs,” 

O’ Connor said. “Different parts of your brain light up when you are working with someone watching over you, opposed to just doing homework in your bedroom.” 

Coupled with a predominantly one-to-one tutoring environment, consistent and accessible schedules increase the effectiveness of HIT. HIT standards suggest students participate in high-frequency tutoring sessions for “a minimum of 3 times per week, for 30-60 minutes per session, for a minimum of a semester and preferably a full school year.” 

All FORA students receive tutoring sessions lasting two hours Monday through Friday. This means each refugee student works with a tutor for 10 hours per week. For those 10 hours, students worked with skilled tutors knowledgeable about FORA’s educational strategies. 

While at FORA, students follow individualized, high-quality learning plans. O’ Connor said she identifies the best learning materials for students by analyzing test scores, previous educational backgrounds and age. 

FORA currently utilizes the Renaissance STAR test to measure students’ improvement. Based on STAR test results, FORA’s Director of Education and HIT work together to design a plan, but sometimes they need more information. 

“An educational background is very telling, even if the student doesn’t understand English,” O’ Connor said. 

By understanding a student’s previous classroom experience, FORA staff can understand which classroom experience may be new for the student. 

When crafting the most effective learning plan, O’ Connor said age is also a crucial factor. 

“Understanding sentence structures, grammar and numeracy concepts all occur at different ages of a brain’s development,” she said. 

Therefore, learning materials must align with both the student’s abilities and their brain’s development. 

Learning plans typically consist of a variety of apps and workbooks covering topics ranging from foundational arithmetic to grammar rules of capitalization and punctuation. During each tutoring session, students spend an hour on reading assistance and one hour on math assistance. 

“We have done a lot of research to ensure the apps and workbooks assigned to students mimic how it is supposed to be taught,” O’ Connor said. “We are constantly emphasizing the use of supplemental materials such as number lines to ensure the student is learning hands-on.”

FORA currently has at least nine apps to cater towards students’ needs. 

High quality learning materials are one of the sturdiest foundations to effective tutoring, since HIT methodology is “focused on scaffolding academic content so that students’ can access new learning while also building upon their knowledge and skills base,” according to the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education. 

A newer addition to FORA’s education model is the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) component. 

FORA began SEL learning sessions once a week in November of 2023, aiming to teach students how to understand their brains and learn to manage their emotions.

“For many of our students, transitioning to the United States can be overwhelming,” Mateo Rodriguez, one of FORA’s Education Officers, said. “They are expected to move to a new country and assimilate to a new culture, learn a new language, and learn how to navigate the American school system.” 

In each session, Education Officers discuss various topics such as managing stress in school, managing relationships, and discussing strategies for students to succeed in their everyday lives. 

SEL instruction ensures FORA educators are teaching the whole student, recognizing the socio-emotional and psychological barriers refugee SLIFE students face on a daily basis.

A report by the WIDA Consortium suggests recognizing socio-emotional needs in the classroom helps address stressors of acculturation to the U.S educational system and feelings associated with resettlement. 

At FORA, educational services don't only mean tutoring. In addition to the SEL curriculum, FORA’s Family School Partnership Program (FSPP) works to support families in the transition to American school life and assist parents in navigating resources at their child’s school.

FSPP prioritizes meeting with parents to discuss both their child’s needs and their own in an attempt to build parents’ confidence in advocating for their child’s success within the American Education System. 

In the classroom, qualified tutors follow students’ individualized Learning Plan to maintain high-quality, consistent learning to manage learning goals. FORA Outreach Staff provides orientation sessions to train new tutors about FORA’s tutoring strategies, learning resources and student engagement. The goal of the orientation is to walk tutors through leading a tutoring session while maintaining the specialized plan for each student. 

In January of 2024, Outreach Staff also began priming new tutors about trauma-informed tutoring, a practice every FORA staff member receives training on. 

Trauma-informed tutoring provides FORA tutors with ways to reframe students’ thinking towards resilient learning and provide insight into how past traumatic experiences present in a classroom setting. 

“We do have students with regulation issues due to the neglect of educational needs,” O’ Connor said. “Oftentimes, students will be very quiet and listen to every word I say when they start at FORA, but this is because the classroom may be an unfamiliar environment. Over time, they will open up and have more opinions about what they do and don’t want to do. This is them expressing themselves.” 

The inclusion of socio-emotional needs and collaboration with Chicago Public Schools are the strong branches supporting the survival of FORA’s dedication towards consistent and individualized learning. However, each department and initiative which encompass FORA’s educational model, ensuring opportunities are forged for refugees in America.

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