College Corps, with California’s first state-run tutoring initiative, is off and running


Gov. Newsom, in blue jacket, and Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday, to his left, gather College Corps fellows in Sacramento for a group shot after a press conference Friday.

California formally launched its first tutoring initiative for K-12 students Friday when Gov. Gavin Newsom administered a pledge of commitment to hundreds of college students who are participating in a new state-funded service program, #CaliforniansForAll College Corps.

A state version of AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, College Corps is sending its first class of 3,250 students from 46 California community colleges and state universities into the community during the 2022-23 school year. About half of the fellows will work as tutors and mentors in 33 school districts and community after-school programs; the other half will work on food insecurity efforts and climate action projects. Sacramento City Unified, Riverside Unified, Merced City Schools, Berkeley Unified, Ceres Unified, Castro Valley Unified, Tustin Unified, Davis Unified and Los Angeles Unified are among the districts with schools that College Corps will serve.

For their 450 hours of work and training, which breaks down to an average of 15 hours per week, corps fellows will receive $10,000, a combination of a living allowance and a scholarship. Newsom, in creating College Corps, said it would produce multiple benefits: making a dent in students’ college debt, instilling the spirit of public service, and, for tutoring, providing personal connections and academic help.  Five hundred of the 3,200 slots are earmarked for Dreamers, financially struggling undocumented immigrants enrolled in California colleges and universities.

“You are all living testaments to inspiration,” Newsom told hundreds of corps fellows during a news conference Friday in Sacramento. Echoing John F. Kennedy’s lofty call to service, he added, “You’re going to stretch people’s minds. People are going to be inspired by your leadership, by your faith and devotion to not just yourself, but to others around you.”

The initial four-year, $300 million in state funding will produce 13,000 fellowships, including for 6,000 tutors and mentors through 2025-26.

Their services will be in high demand as school districts struggle to catch up with learning lost during the two-plus years of the pandemic.

School superintendents surveyed by the California School Boards Association cited tutoring as a priority for using federal and state COVID aid; however, many short-staffed districts are having difficulty recruiting teachers as after-school tutors and making connections with local agencies to train potential tutors in the community.

Other states, including Illinois, Oklahoma, Ohio and Tennessee, have passed tutoring initiatives. Some have set up tutoring corps targeting college students, but some have fallen short of their recruitment targets.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Recruitment wasn’t a problem for College Corps. Nearly 10,000 students – 3 people for every opening – applied for College Corps, said Josh Fryday, the state’s chief service officer, whom Newsom appointed to run California Volunteers, the parent organization of College Corps, and then elevated to a Cabinet position.

The partnership between the state and its colleges and universities makes College Corps scalable if it meets its objectives, said Fryday. “Our hope is to continue to grow. Students are thirsty for this. They want to serve, to create change, to be involved and give back,” he said. “And I think it’s incumbent upon our leaders to create the opportunities for them to do so.”

Fryday and others in the Newsom administration would like to see College Corps become another entry point to the pipeline for new teachers and counselors.

“It is one of several key programs that are designed to expose, challenge, encourage students to enter into critical fields, like education,” said Ben Chida, Newsom’s chief deputy Cabinet secretary.

The administration has invested nearly $3 billion in programs to recruit new teachers. Tutoring can acquaint students with other opportunities, like the Golden State Teaching Grants, which can provide up to $20,000 to students who subsequently enroll in a teacher preparation program.

“Then it will be a big win,” said Rigel Massaro, deputy policy director at the California State Board of Education.

An example is Ariza Ali, 22, a senior at San Jose State. She is part of Cyber Spartans, an after-school program developed by San Jose State that teaches rudimentary computer programming using a fun drag-and-drop application to elementary students in Title I schools in the San Jose area.

As the team leader at Sherman Oaks Elementary, a Spanish immersion school in the Campbell Union School District, she introduces a weekly activity to a class of 24 third and fourth graders, then roams around the classroom as eight fellows, working in small groups, guide hands-on activities. She notices who’s struggling with a concept, asks questions to build rapport and helps kids through their frustration to learn problem-solving skills, she said.

A child and adolescent development major, she said, “College Corps has reaffirmed my desire to become an educator,” probably as a preschool teacher. “I want to take a role cultivating development of young children in under-resourced communities.”

Legislation that created College Corps doesn’t spell out who should be tutored and how. But most of the colleges that applied for the program are working with Title I, low-income schools and after-school programs. That is the intent, Fryday said.

The consensus of researchers is that “high-dosage” is the most effective form of tutoring. The gold standard is in-person tutoring, with the same tutor working individually or with a small group of students at least several times each week.

During school time is preferable, since some students who need tutoring don’t stay after school, or they may see it as punishment. Tutors should be trained and regularly evaluated.

College Corps programs can devote up to 90 of 450 hours for training. Ali received 15 hours of pre-service training, and fellows meet Fridays for two hours of follow-up discussions on strategies and challenges they’ve encountered.

College Corps has not yet set tutoring requirements, although colleges, universities and the local providers they contract with were chosen because they’re experienced, Fryday said. But it is signaling that “high-dosage” tutoring is a best practice. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a small state agency overseeing school improvement and its partner, an education lab at MIT, have created extensive resources on how to implement and evaluate the impact of “high-dosage” tutoring. It is being distributed to College Corps providers.

As important as the instruction is, Ali said College Corps enables college students from diverse backgrounds to serve as role models, reinforcing for students that they, too, can go to college, Ali said. “It’s very powerful.”

“At the end of the day,” said Chida, “what students need is a trusting relationship with somebody who will break down concepts for them and walk through it with them. There’s no shortcut to that.”

“And so,” he added, “the more efforts, the more resources we can get into place to ensure those relationships are built and those opportunities are actually realized over the course of a year, the better. Tutoring and service programs go hand-in-hand — both should be in abundant everywhere, and that’s precisely what we’re working to do.”

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