Community Spotlight: Tempe Extends Successful Programs for Children and Families

August 30, 2023

Read On Communities

Read On Tempe is doing it right.

Improving early literacy outcomes takes a coordinated, comprehensive approach focused on school readiness, family engagement and support, and effective reading instruction and interventions. Tempe has established evidence-based programs across these strategic priorities: Tempe PRE provides high-quality early learning for preschool children; the city’s Triple P positive parenting program supports parents in their role as their child’s first teacher; and Tempe’s model tutoring program, Experience Corps, provides one-on-one, in-school literacy support to boost struggling young readers in the early grades.

Launched in 2015, Read On Tempe is led by staff from the City of Tempe. Its goal is “to create a seamless early literacy continuum from birth to third grade that provides families with appropriate programs and services at every step along their child’s path to becoming a competent reader.”

“That continuum of support is something we’ve been intentional about,” said Marie Raymond, manager of the city’s Office of Education, Career and Family Services. “Our programs overlap and work together.”

The collaboration and commitment of partners in Read On Tempe continues to grow, and that momentum has produced new investments to help reach more children and families.

Permanent Funding for Quality Preschool

Tempe PRE is the city’s high-quality, full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. Now in its seventh year, the program has the capacity to serve 200 young children and families across eight schools in the Tempe Elementary School District. Initially launched as a two-year pilot to improve kindergarten readiness, the Tempe City Council recently approved $1.5 million in recurring annual funding for Tempe PRE in the city budget.

With a strong focus on literacy, Tempe PRE uses the evidence-based HighScope preschool curriculum, aligned to the Arizona Early Learning Standards. Classrooms are staffed by early childhood education-certified teachers and experienced instructional assistants. Assessment data has shown positive impacts on literacy skills, social-emotional development, and family well-being.

“We launched Tempe PRE as a pilot program, with a vision to make sure all children and families in Tempe have access to high-quality preschool to improve school success,” said Tempe Mayor Corey Woods. “With this permanent funding, we are deepening our commitment to educational opportunity and strengthening our community.”

Tempe's Model Tutoring Program

This school year also marks the 18th year of Tempe’s successful literacy tutoring program, AARP Foundation Experience Corps, which provides one-on-one support for 500 students in first through third grade who are below grade-level reading benchmarks. Tutors are highly-trained, adult volunteers (50 or older) who help students improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension skills during regularly-scheduled classroom time. Schools use data to identify students who will most benefit from tutoring, usually those reading just below benchmarks. “They have the basic skills to be successfully tutored but are at risk of falling behind without some extra help,” said Nicole Burner, who supervises the program for the City of Tempe. “Our Experience Corps tutors have moved the needle for these students. With the additional help, they can really soar.”

While down from pre-pandemic levels of success, data from last year show that 69% of Tempe students served by Experience Corps met or exceeded end-of-year reading accuracy benchmarks, 60% met or exceeded fluency benchmarks, and all demonstrated growth in test scores or confidence. “We are seen as one of the interventions that get results,” said Karen McNally, Tempe’s AARP Experience Corps data specialist. “Our kiddos grow at a faster rate” than those who don’t receive tutoring.

The tutoring program was originated in the Tempe Elementary School District in 2006 and came under the AARP banner in 2011. Tempe’s AARP Experience Corps is now the national model, and local staff provide training for all new programs across the country.

Read On Tempe recently joined forces with two other Read On Communities to secure grant funding to bring Experience Corps tutoring to more schools and students. Learn more.

Family Engagement and Support

Tempe also serves local families with young children with the evidence-based Triple P Positive Parenting Program®. Informed by more than 35 years of ongoing research, Triple P gives parents simple, practical strategies to build strong, healthy relationships and help their children learn and grow. Parents can participate in one-on-one or group sessions. Monthly workshops at some Tempe elementary schools and family resource centers will start this fall.

“Parents are the first and best teachers for their children,” Burner said. In addition to supporting positive parenting skills, Triple P also “helps parents provide an environment at home that promotes reading and literacy.”

Tempe’s Helping Us Grow (HUG) program is another targeted family engagement strategy that supports early literacy by helping low-income families build home libraries.

Read On Tempe has also collaborated with the Tempe Public Library, schools, and other community partners for literacy events and activities. “We created a new position two years ago to more intentionally reach out to families,” Burner said. “We went from one or two events a year to 12 last year -- story times, meet the teacher events, literacy nights, make-and-take book activities. Parents spend time together with their child with books, and whenever we provide books, we include resources to help them extend the learning at home, too.”

Read On Tempe also recently launched a community literacy hub as part of Project C.A.L.L., funded by a grant from the Arizona Department of Education, to provide after-school and summer enrichment for students and support low-income families with literacy activities and programming.

Working Together According to Plan

Read On TempeRead On Tempe is part of a network of 26 local communities of practice and collaboration supported by Read On Arizona. Read On Tempe’s comprehensive programs are closely aligned with the strategic priorities that guide the work of Read On Arizona at the state level:

  • Scaling up evidence-based strategies
  • Building educator capacity in teaching reading effectively
  • Engaging families and communities in early literacy
  • Expanding access to quality early learning

“We have been part of the network of Read On Communities for many years,” Raymond said. “It has been invaluable to be connected to all the resources, funding opportunities, and opportunities to collaborate that Read On Arizona makes possible. We learn best practices from other communities, and we share ours.”

“There is a lot in place in Tempe,” said Read On Arizona’s Lori Masseur, “and it’s all coordinated with intention to help young children be ready for kindergarten and help students learn to read at grade level.”

Read On Tempe continues to build on its continuum of support. The group will come together later this year for strategic planning to evaluate progress and “set our strategic direction,” Raymond said. “With so much happening, it’s a good time to revisit that.”