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City Year 101: Literacy Interventions and Tutoring

AmeriCorps members at Southwark School kicked off the 2022-23 school year with a free book fair to instill a love of reading in students.


In this ongoing blog series, we are taking a deep dive into the range of City Year Philadelphia’s (CYP’s) work in schools, including social-emotional learning, literacy and math tutoring, afterschool programs, and school-wide events.

Our first blog explored social emotional learning (SEL) and its importance in building a foundation of trust and respect with students before working on academics. In this next installment, we’re diving into literacy interventions and tutoring. Stay tuned for future blogs to learn more about how our AmeriCorps members are supporting student success in and out of the classroom.


Literacy Interventions and Tutoring: What It Is and How It Works

First, let’s clear up some technical language. A literacy intervention employs a specific curriculum known as Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI). This is primarily used with grades 3-8 as an accelerated method of supporting students to read at grade level. A literacy tutoring session is less formal and is used for students in high school, focusing on outcomes such as reading comprehension, critical thinking, analysis, and writing skills.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into literacy interventions and tutoring.

Literacy interventions and tutoring sessions start when a student is identified as needing additional academic support. City Year looks at school-provided data on student grades and test scores, and assigns AmeriCorps members a “focus list” of students with whom they work closely throughout the school year.

City Year partner schools navigate a number of real challenges. Among them, the schools experience systemic under resourcing, and they need more teachers. And with learning interruptions caused by the pandemic, many Philadelphia students can benefit from additional support so they can achieve reading at grade level.

While 15% of fourth graders and 17% of eighth graders in School District of Philadelphia are reading at grade level (National Assessment of Education Progress, 2022), City Year Corps members provide schools with needed personnel, both in the classroom and in tutoring spaces, to support students in their learning and to achieve academically.

LLI interventions are held in biweekly 45-minute sessions with small groups of up to five students. Ideally, Corps members spend at least 90 minutes per week with each student to achieve progress. The Corps member leads students through the LLI curriculum, which uses “leveled” texts to help students progressively build their reading skills.

In high school settings, Corps members work with students in either small groups or one-on-one sessions for 60 minutes per week. Rather than following a regimented curriculum, Corps members will work with students on reading comprehension and writing strategies to support students in building skills needed for high school and beyond. The goal is for students to eventually be able to do this work on their own without the support of a Corps member.


Stories from our Corps

Success in literacy might seem small at first, but over time it can ripple into substantial life outcomes for students. Four of CYP’s AmeriCorps members—Lucy Flattery-Vickness, Anaya Artopee, Olivia Baptiste, and Candus Burks—share their experiences supporting students in literacy.

Lucy Flattery-Vickness, Team Leader at Kensington High School, shared a story about supporting one of her students last year in completing a 1,500-word personal essay assignment. The student sometimes struggled with staying motivated to complete his work, and he expressed to Lucy that the assignment felt like an overwhelming task. Not only was this the longest essay the student had ever written, but the prompt also required him to revisit some difficult life experiences.

Despite being given the option to write about other aspects of his life, the student chose to take the more challenging route. With Lucy’s encouragement and support, the student persevered through the writing process, taking breaks when he needed to talk through his feelings before continuing.

By the time the deadline was nearing, Lucy was starting to get nervous, as the student still had an additional 500 words left to write. On the Monday the essay was due, the student came into school with a big smile on his face. He couldn’t wait to tell Lucy how he had worked hard throughout the entire weekend to complete his essay. Lucy shares, “This was an amazing moment for this student, because I could tell that he had proven to himself that he could do work independently. Moreover, I could tell that he was sincerely proud of himself, which was the biggest win of all.”

“This was an amazing moment for this student, because I could tell that he had proven to himself that he could do work independently. Moreover, I could tell that he was sincerely proud of himself, which was the biggest win of all.” -Lucy Flattery-Vickness, Team Leader at Kensington High School

Lucy (bottom left, purple jacket) with her team at Kensington High School.

Anaya Artopee, Team Leader at Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus, spoke about a student with whom she worked last year. The student began the year reluctant to engage in class. He kept his head down and was hesitant to speak up when he needed help. Anaya’s literacy interventions provided the student with a safe space to ask questions and gain the confidence needed to engage in his learning.

Anaya explains, “In the LLI lessons, there is a section where you discuss your reading as a group, and I would use the guiding questions to help students connect the reading to things they already know. He began to thrive in those spaces once he realized he already knew a lot more than he thought.”

The literacy interventions additionally helped the student become more confident with sounding out new words; whenever the student began to doubt himself, Anaya would offer reassurance and encouragement. The student gradually gained confidence in attempting the words on his own, and he began participating much more frequently in both Anaya’s interventions and the larger classroom.

Anaya (pictured left) with her Cassidy School teammates at the start of the service year. 

Olivia Baptiste, Team Leader at Roxborough High School spoke about how the literacy sessions impacted her 9th grade students. During one session, the students were asked about a metaphor in their text. In class, the students were struggling with grasping the concept of similes and metaphors. In listening to her students’ conversations, it dawned on Olivia that her students were already using similes and metaphors all the time through their use of slang. By breaking down the concept in a relatable way, Olivia was able to support her students in building their literacy skills.

Olivia (pictured right, standing) and her Roxborough High School teammates show off their City Year-themed winter door decor.

Candus Burks, Team Leader at Duckrey School, likewise saw success in her literacy interventions when she adjusted her lesson plans to meet students’ interests and needs. For example, Candus noticed that her students struggled with independent writing time. She observed that students had an easier time with writing when they were able to talk about it first; as a result, she began incorporating group discussion time at the start of each lesson to ease students into their independent work.

Candus also added games and interactive activities into her LLI interventions to make the sessions more fun and engaging—such as warming up with a few silly “Would you rather?” questions, asking students to share their ideas through Think-Pair-Shares, and playing word games like “Bananagrams” as an incentive for completing a lesson.

Candus spoke about one student who was very shy and reserved at the beginning of the school year. She rarely engaged with the reading materials or participated during group discussions. Through these various engagement activities that Candus incorporated into her LLI sessions, she noticed a drastic change in the student’s attitude towards reading throughout the year, from reluctant to enthusiastic. The student additionally became more comfortable participating in group LLI discussions and answering questions. Candus explains that, when working with students, “It’s the little, little wins. It’s never the huge things you see right away.”

“It’s the little, little wins. It’s never the huge things you see right away.” -Candus Burks, Team Leader at Duckrey School

Candus (pictured far left) enjoying some teambuilding time with the Corps members at Duckrey School.


Stay tuned for our next blog in this series, as we explore math interventions and tutoring!


Are you considering a year of service, or do you know someone who is? City Year Philly is currently hiring full-time tutors and mentors for the 2023-2024 school year. Click below to start your journey.

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