A joint Diakon Youth Services-Widener University literacy project is making a difference in the lives of at-risk youths.

Program partners university students with at-risk youths

Delaware County, Pa.    Monday, December 22, 2014

Because reading is not only fundamental, but also often the key to the educational performance that can help at-risk youths succeed, Diakon Youth Services’ Bridge Program has partnered with Widener University to improve literacy in youthful offenders.

Following a successful pilot effort early this year, Megan O’Neill, director of the Bridge Program in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and Widener University Professors Mimi Staulters and Nancy Blank initiated a one-on-one tutoring program that pairs senior special education majors at the Chester, Pennsylvania, university with at-risk youths from surrounding areas.

“In choosing students to participate in this program, we looked for those who have difficulty in school with behavioral issues and often are falling behind academically,” O’Neill says. “We have found that some who are in high school cannot read well.”

“We’re hoping to make the program bigger and better.”

Staulters, an assistant professor of special education, developed the curriculum and follow-up testing for the 10-week program, which began in September.

“The tutors are working on reading comprehension and study skills with the youths,” notes O’Neill. “Bridge Program staff members are there to provide mentoring and supervision. We want to make sure that everyone in the program is talking and the tutors are aware of what is going on in the kids’ lives.”

As the students complete the program, Blank, a criminal justice professor, will work with Bridge staff and youths to determine what worked well and what didn’t, collecting data with the intent of publishing her findings.

“They are testing the students at the start, the middle, and the end of the program to see what they learned so that we can try to improve on the program next semester,” says O’Neill, who wants to keep working with the university to prevent children from falling behind academically.

“We’re hoping to make the program bigger and better.”

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