Tutoring makes math fun

Grantee Story

A year ago, if you talked to DC ninth-grader Jah’ere Kelley about math, he likely would have shrugged and grudgingly admitted he was stressed about school and, by extension, his future. Though the bright freshman at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, DC, is just beginning to think about what he wants to do with his life, he knows that math will be important.

Today, Jah’ere is much more at ease about things. “I struggled in math, but my tutor has helped a lot.”

Jah’ere’s growing confidence—with math and with himself—owes a lot to small group tutoring provided by Saga Education, a national nonprofit tutoring organization that partners with high schools in several large, urban districts to deliver high-dose Algebra I tutoring to ninth-graders.

In total, Saga fellows tutor 5,000 students at 42 high schools in Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, and Broward County, FL. Saga Education offers an evidence-based, personalized tutoring model designed to support students to get them on the right track for graduation and beyond.

The partnership with Ron Brown High and three other DC Public Schools (DCPS) high schools is funded by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, which chose to bring the program to DC in 2019 because of Saga’s proven results. A rigorous evaluation, conducted by the University of Chicago’s Education Lab, shows that students working with Saga can learn up to two-and-a-half years worth of math in a single academic year. Math course failures are reduced by as much as 63%. They also report improved attendance and fewer course failures over all—even in courses where they didn’t receive tutoring.

Between 2019 and 2021, there were 18 DC Saga fellows working in close collaboration with principals and teachers. Through this partnership, Jah’ere and the approximately 324 students that Saga worked with in DC had Saga’s high-dose tutoring integrated seamlessly into their school day. 

Saga plays a complementary capacity-building role that extends the reach of DCPS to students for whom a little extra help makes a real and lasting difference in their lives. And, as kids return to school after the coronavirus pandemic, Saga’s tutoring will be instrumental, particularly in helping address knowledge gaps that widened during the past year. Recent research shows that students who pass Algebra I are four times more likely to graduate high school. Saga will expand its DCPS program for the 2021-22 school year.

Jah’ere and his Saga tutor, AmeriCorps fellow Tarai Zemba, spend at least an hour a day, every school day focused solely on math. Due to the pandemic, Tarai and Jah’ere meet online. Tarai also works with four others in Jah’ere’s math class.

“I don’t want to embarrass him, but Jah’ere is one of my ‘shining star’ students,” Tarai says of her pupil. “He’s improved so much. I can tell his confidence level has improved. And his determination to attempt and work through every problem is really incredible to see.”

Tarai says that Jah’ere’s growing self-assurance spills over into the breakout sessions he shares with her other students. Jah’ere has become a leader in the group.

“I think the most important thing the human touch of tutoring gives kids is that confidence,” says Claice Jackson, director of programs for Saga in DC. “Many students who have worked with a Saga Fellow this year have a new perspective towards math. Despite the pandemic, their future is bright.” 

“Tarai makes math fun,” Jah’ere says with a smile. “It’s a fun thing that I really like about the day. It really just makes me want to work harder.”