“We Can Do More!”: Campus-Community Collaboration at the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida’s commitment to increase participation in community service FWS spurred creation of a Community Service FWS Reading Tutor Workgroup, composed of community organizations and university departments. USF also partners with the Hillsborough Education Foundation to offer AmeriCorps Education Awards to its FWS reading tutors. Each year, the America Reads program increases in the number of tutors placed and the number of schools that participate. In 2005-06, 58 USF students provided 16,000 hours of service to 300 children. After being tutored, 82% of second and third grade students were reading on grade level or higher.

University of South Florida

Amy Simon, Coordinator
Center for Civic Engagement & Volunteerism

The University of South Florida (USF) is a metropolitan research university founded in 1956 with an enrollment of approximately 43,000 students. Being civically engaged is central to the mission and vision of the university. The university has had community service Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs for years, and sought to expand these efforts in 1997 to create opportunities for reading tutors. This expansion was developed intentionally through a collaboration including local community organizations, the University Career Center, the Office of Financial Aid, the College of Education, and the Center for Civic Engagement & Volunteerism.

America Reads at USF

America Reads is an integrated program of the Center for Civic Engagement & Volunteerism at the University of South Florida. Each year, the America Reads program increases in the number of tutors placed and the number of schools that participate. In 2005-2006, 58 USF students provided 16,000 hours of service to 300 students. After being tutored, 82% of second and third grade students were reading on grade level or higher. One hundred percent of teachers agreed that as a result of being tutored, the children show a more positive attitude toward reading and improved reading skills and strategies. The America Reads program has expanded to provide additional services for the local schools, including preschool and middle school.

The America Reads program is competitive and fills with tutors prior to school beginning. The reputation of quality tutoring programs, where students can truly have an impact and receive training and support, is attractive to FWS students. The “Building Better Readers” curriculum, interactive training, and ongoing assessment provide a clear road map for the tutors to be effective. Students are eager to serve and see that they make a difference.

History of the Collaboration

Civic engagement is a focus of the USF, and the university’s commitment to increase participation in community service FWS spurred the drive to connect more with community groups and increase the services offered to the community and provide increased opportunities for student participants in the program. A Community Service FWS Reading Tutor Workgroup, composed of community members and university representatives, came together to create high-quality tutoring programs where students could serve through partnerships with the community organizations. This committee was chaired by the Career Center and included representatives from all interested parties including the university and the community.

Multiple community organizations committed to participate in the program by developing tutoring and other community service programs. Throughout the years, many of these partnerships have evolved into sustainable programs that meet needs in the community and get students connected. These partners include local literacy groups, the school district, the local AmeriCorps program, and other youth-serving community organizations.

Through their experiences in the community, students participate in meaningful community service employment and connect with organizations where they can volunteer. Some have received off-campus jobs upon completion of their FWS term. Students also connect with the university when they accept a community service FWS position. They connect with other students and have the support of the Center for Civic Engagement & Volunteerism for academic and co-curricular leadership and training opportunities. Through their service, they open many doors that lead them to become active student scholars and leaders.

Partnership with AmeriCorps

One key partner throughout the years is the Hillsborough Education Foundation and its “Hillsborough Reads” program. This local AmeriCorps program offers full-time, part-time, and “education award only” positions for AmeriCorps members serving as reading tutors in local elementary schools. Through the Hillsborough Education Foundation, University FWS students can receive an AmeriCorps education award for the hours they work as tutors.

The Foundation has embraced the FWS students and integrated them into the ongoing funding of the program for the past ten years. Hundreds of children receive tutoring through a combination of tutors who receive FWS dollars, tutors who receive both FWS and an AmeriCorps education award, and tutors who are serving as part- or full-time AmeriCorps members and are not FWS students. By utilizing each type of tutor, the Hillsborough Education Foundation is able to make a greater impact in the schools and more children are served. All tutors benefit from this partnership, as they receive quality training, utilize the Building Better Readers curriculum, and learn about AmeriCorps opportunities.

Collaboration Is Key

Internal Collaboration

The success of the America Reads program could not occur without the support and collaboration of various university departments. The Office of Financial Aid commits staffing to help coordinate the program. Each year, they fund a graduate assistant position housed within the Center for Civic Engagement & Volunteerism who is focused on the community service FWS program. The Office of Financial Aid also manages the process of awarding FWS for community service to eligible students. The Center for Civic Education & Volunteerism administers the America Reads program, including working with community partners and hiring, supervising, supporting, and training all tutors to ensure a high-quality and consistent program. Tutor training occurs biweekly throughout the year.

Other departments are also involved. The College of Education assists with recruitment and hiring of the students, including tutor payroll and coordinating this process with Human Resources. The Career Center advertises the positions and, in collaboration with Financial Aid, advertises community service FWS positions to all eligible students. The partnerships among different departments on campus that began ten years ago have flourished and are critical to the success of the program.

External Collaboration

These internal university partnerships account for only some of the program’s success. Without the collaboration with the Hillsborough Education Foundation, the program would not be sustainable. Their expertise in designing the curriculum and providing training on the “Building Better Readers” curriculum prepares the tutors to be successful. They establish strong school partnerships and manage the AmeriCorps Education Awards.

Not only has this program grown throughout the years, but the AmeriCorps grant has been funded for more than ten years, largely due to the collaboration between the University and the Hillsborough Education Foundation. The addition of the university’s 35 education award members and the more than 20 FWS-only tutors to the 8 full/part-time members who make up the “Corps” enables the AmeriCorps Hillsborough Reads Program to reach many more students. The true impact of the tutors is realized through the university’s partnership with this program. By working collectively, the America Reads program is a model of how to work with the community to better provide reading tutors.

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