Fostering Reading: Supporting the Educational Journeys of Ohio Foster Youth
by Evette Harrell, AYA English Education – Class of 2023, Miami University
College students around the state are supporting foster youth in a new partnership. Fostering Reading, a virtual tutoring program that began in January 2021 under the guidance of Miami University educational psychology professor Dr. Leah Wasburn-Moses and undergraduate researchers, is growing into a statewide initiative that is supporting the needs of both Ohio foster children and future educators.
Last spring, with the assistance of Hope’s Closet, a nonprofit supporting foster care, the Fostering Reading pilot program provided free virtual reading tutoring for 15 southwest Ohio elementary age foster children by pairing them with 15 teacher education majors at Miami University. Research showed the tutoring relationship produced academic and emotional benefits for both foster children and college student tutors. Participants all saw evidence of increases in the tutees’ skill level and content knowledge, and tutors overwhelmingly reported feelings of fulfillment with the relationship they made with their tutee.
Foster youth said their “tutor helped a lot and helped [them] become smarter,” they “felt more confident in their ability to do their work,” and they “really liked [their] tutor and missed them.” Tutors experienced many of the same thoughts and feelings, one tutor remarking that she was so happy to see her tutee gradually become more “excited to do the problems...open up to [her] a lot more...and actually enjoy hanging out.”
Fostering Reading has since expanded, with the sponsorship of Miami University and the M.I.A.M.I. Women Giving Circle, an organization that has granted around $450,000 to projects at Miami University that are affecting change. Through this grant, foster youth around Ohio have been matched with community college tutors for reading tutoring with the help of Paige McClain at Hocking College, Carla Rhoades at Cincinnati State College, as well as Kara Walsh and Marti Blackburn from Zane State College.
The goals for the future are to continue scaling up Fostering Reading with the help of the training website (https://wasburlh.wixsite.com/fosteringreading) and support the development of similar programs by teacher educators. The training website includes curriculum resources for tutors, as well as tools for reading assessments, lessons, and activities.
“This project is a win-win...it serves our foster youth, and it serves our future teachers,” said Dr. Leah Wasburn-Moses, educational psychology professor at Miami University and founder of Fostering Reading. “In teacher education, it’s so important to make connections with students and to learn about trauma-informed teaching. With foster youth, making a connection with a trusted adult is a big resilience factor.”