Webster student Brittany Steinbrueck learned early in her work with the Student Literacy Program (SLP) that she could make a difference in someone’s life.
“I worked with a particular fourth grade boy from Woerner, who was significantly below grade level in reading,” Steinbrueck said. “I worked with him two times a week for about a half an hour each. He was always so excited to work with him, and despite his struggles in academic content, he never gave up.”
Steinbrueck worked with the SLP for over a year, and through her work, she realized teaching was the perfect career for her. And through SLP, she got paid to do it.
According to program director Kate Northcott, even though students can receive financial aid through SLP, the program became something much more than a chance to help pay for school; it was a chance to make a difference. The Student Literacy Corps embodies the idea of unlocking the full potential of a student through one-on-one mentorship and tutoring.
In a statement from 2013, President Elizabeth Stroble discussed how the tutor forms a relationship with their student of mutual trust and respect throughout the course of a semester or a full academic year. She said that by doing so, the partnership between tutor and student develops a sense of confidence, trust and academic support that many of the students desire.
Steinbrueck participated in three semesters and one summer session with the SLP. Through her tutoring, she realized how special her bond with her student became after she received a letter from his teacher.
“His teacher wrote this about our time together: ‘I cannot thank you enough for sending Brittany my way. If you could see the change in [student], it would bring tears to your eyes’,” Steinbrueck recalled. “‘He absolutely adores her and she is wonderful with him. He’s reading, writing, raising his hand in class and his confidence in himself has grown. I just can’t say enough wonderful things about the lifelong difference she has made.’”
Students connect with their tutors on more than an academic level. Many of the students receiving classroom help from the Webster tutors come from low-income families, where the potential of having no college student or graduate in the family is high.
Steinbrueck said in her experience, her students gained more than classroom skills; they improved their self-confidence.
“Those are things that I did not teach him, but the support I gave him encouraged him and transferred to other parts of his life. This is a huge takeaway for him,” Steinbrueck said.
The Student Literacy Corps does not typically work to match tutors with a particular student. For principal of Mason School of Academic and Cultural Literacy and SLP founding member Deborah Leto, sometimes, matching students with tutors of similar backgrounds allows for a deeper connection.
“The beauty of many [tutors] that we get are, they are international students so we always try to match them with kids from their same countries,” Leto said. “Last year, we had a sixth grader who was reading at a fourth grade level. The tutor was from his same country, spoke his same language. She understood how he thought, how he managed. By the time the session was over, she had him up to reading two more grade levels.”
While students of low-income areas are the primary benefactors of the Student Literacy Corps, Webster students gain perspective from their experiences.
For Steinbrueck, her experiences with the SLP confirmed for her she was meant to be a teacher and work with children.
Program director Kate Northcott believes one of the key takeaways for Webster students is the “real-life” exposure many of the tutors did not grow up around.
“It’s real life and there’s only so much you can learn theoretically by studying in class. Getting out into the world is how we learn to take the theory and put it into practice,” Northcott said. “It is valuable for our typical St. Louis Webster students to see how the other half lives and that has been eye opening for many students.”
Financial aid and grants
Since its founding in 1990, the Webster Student Literacy Corps has received thousands of dollars in grants from organizations across the St. Louis area. To this program, grants and outside funding mean hiring more than simply federal work study students and to supply tutors with the appropriate materials to bring success to their student.
Maritz is a locally based sales and marketing firm which has donated over $40,000 to the Student Literacy Corps, benefitting student stipends and other program funding. Through grants from organizations like Maritz, those who do not qualify for work-study are able to receive stipends, a fixed regular salary or allowance.
“The vast majority of the stipends are specifically to allow me to hire tutors who are not eligible for federal work study, which includes international students, graduate students and anybody who is just a hair above the qualifying line on the FAFSA,” Northcott said. “We are very fortunate to have those grants because it means that anybody who’s interested in doing this, not having federal work study will not preclude them.”