Hours after the dismissal bell rang Tuesday at Bayvale Elementary School, about 50 pupils were sitting around desks with books open and pencils digging into paper.
By their sides were tutors giving instruction at no cost to the school or parents. The after-hours school bus that shuttled the pupils home around 7 p.m. also does not cost families a dime.
Although Richmond County students have a free opportunity for extra help with reading and math, a low percentage of students who qualify actually take advantage of the services.
The Supplemental Educational Services program, offered under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, provides free tutoring to children at schools with high poverty or schools that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards for two years.
Out of 9,054 eligible students at 16 schools, 3,858, or 42 percent, are receiving supplemental services this year. Although the number is low, it is an increase from the 25 percent participation rate seen every year since 2008.
“It’s hard to say why the numbers have been so low,” said Georgette Magwood, Richmond County’s supplemental services coordinator. “I can assume it’s just that the families are not aware.”
This school year, Magwood said her department reached out to the community to recruit more students.
But the low participation is not just a local trend. In Georgia, only 33 percent of the 45,158 eligible students in the 2010-11 school year took advantage of the free tutoring, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
Because of the low participation, department spokesman Matt Cardoza said Georgia’s application for a waiver from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind includes a request to use money allocated for supplemental services on other programs. Richmond County receives $1,697 per student for free tutoring, and Magwood said the extra instruction is beneficial, especially for students coming from low-income families, which SES targets.
“Coming up in a house that’s low income, there aren’t as many books in the home, there isn’t as much technology in the home and there’s not as much time devoted to academics,” Magwood said. “We’ve got to give them what they need, and it’s possible for them to get these things through tutoring.”
Using federal money, the district offers four types of supplemental services: one-on-one tutoring, small-group tutoring, online assisted learning for home use and another online program that allows participants to keep a notebook computer after completion of the curriculum.
The district contracts with dozens of companies that provide tutoring services, and parents of qualified children can select which programs they’d like to use. Some providers hold sessions at the student’s zone school while others tutor off campus, so in some cases parents have to provide their own transportation for students.
Dana Rickman, the director of policy and research at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said the supplemental services program has not taken off in the state, which has made schools eager to use the federal money in other ways.
“For whatever reason, it’s not resonating with either the students or the parents,” Rickman said. “It’s really a nationwide issue. Participation is really low, and there’s some theories about how it’s being offered. ... Transportation is always an issue.”
At Bayvale, tutor James Davis said he sees progress in the pupils who use the tutoring because of the chance to reinforce concepts in a more intimate setting.
On Tuesday, he practiced reading comprehension with five first-graders by reading a story out loud about a dog.
Huddled together around a desk, there is no chance for a student to go unnoticed.
“We get to reiterate what’s been taught in the classroom that day,” Davis said. “The real benefit is being able to have this dialogue with the kids.”