Sharing knowledge: Retired educators assist MSD of Lawrence Township students prepare for ILEARN exams

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Last year, 24 retired teachers from the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township returned to classrooms they once taught in. And they are back again this year.

The retired educators spend three days a week in the district’s elementary and middle schools helping students practice for the statewide ILEARN reading and math tests. Students are recommended for tutoring either by their classroom teacher or parent who thinks they could benefit from the extra assistance.

Troy Knoderer, chief academic officer for MSD of Lawrence Township schools, said the school system chose to use their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the COVID-19 grants during the 2021-22 school year to contract the retired teachers.

“The retired educators serve an essential role in our schools providing small group intensive reading support for our elementary and middle school students,” Knoderer said in an email.

The extra instruction supplements that of the students’ full-time teachers. Tutoring is provided during or after school, depending on individual student and teacher schedules. The retired teachers also assist new teachers as they start in the classrooms.

Classroom teachers and retired educators examine reading data and note the progress of each student to determine an approach that best suits their needs. Knoderer also said that the nearly 300 students who participated in the tutoring showed accelerated academic growth in the 2021-22 school year.

Two teachers who participate in this program are Cathy McDonald and Karen Taylor, who are retired from Harrison Hills Elementary. Combined, the former teachers have more 60 years of experience.

Taylor, who taught for 35 years and served as a Title I teacher and data specialist, said working with students in small groups helps tailor instruction to each student’s needs. Taylor also met with small groups of students three days a week to help with reading at Harrison Hills.

“In any classroom, there is a huge range of skill levels among students, and it’s almost impossible for a classroom teacher to provide everything that students need,” Taylor said. “A program like this can target students who need a little extra help to achieve.”

McDonald agrees. She said she saw improvement in the students who she tutored three days a week.

“The consistency and focus within the group did allow for students to gain and practice skills with confidence,” McDonald said. “Many students I worked with were successful on the IREAD test given in the spring.”

Both teachers said one of the reasons they have not fully retired is the passion they have for the job. McDonald said it the part-time instruction provides a good balance between her career and her family, especially as she has recently welcomed a new grandchild.

“When you’ve been doing it for so long, it’s hard to stay away,” Taylor said. “I miss the kids and I miss the (Harrison Hills) community. I taught at Harrison Hills for 27 years and have a strong attachment to this school.”

McDonald said it is a good way to stay connected with students.

“It’s another adult in their life that cares for them,” McDonald said. “They’re just so fun to talk to, and they’re just so silly and funny and they love when we come in because they don’t get to see us every day.”

Cathy McDonald and Karen Taylor pause outside Harrison Hill Elementary. (Photos by Taylor Dixon)

Still work to be done

MSD of Lawrence Township saw a slight increase in testing scores from last year — one percentage point higher — but is still far behind the state average.

As a state, 41.2 percent of students in third- through eighth-grade students were proficient in English and language arts, and 39.4 percent were proficient in math. In Lawrence Township schools, however, only 15.3 percent of third- through eighth-grade students were proficient in English/language arts and math.

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