When Janice Eatman Williams arrived at Case Western Reserve as a graduate student at the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences in 1996, she worked with Project STEP-UP (Student Tutoring Effort to Promote Utilization of Potential), a program that gave Case Western Reserve students the opportunity to tutor Cleveland and East Cleveland elementary school students. At the time, the program served students in only a handful of elementary schools.
Since then, the Project STEP-UP tutoring program has grown to serve more than 30 schools and 20 library branches, says Eatman Williams, who now serves as the program’s director. STEP-UP is one of the university’s campus-to-community-facing engagement programs that fall under the umbrella of the university’s FOCUS Group (Facilitated Outreach for Community & University Success), all of which support youth and families.
“What’s interesting is that we don’t have a school of education, but this program has legs,” Eatman Williams says. “Our students want to be connected to people. Plus, this gives them the opportunity to consider Cleveland and urban spaces in a different way. It transforms the way that students think about how they want to do their work.”
When students sign on to volunteer as tutors, they must commit at least 4-10 hours per week, visit the schools at least twice a week and stay on for one semester. Many volunteer as tutors through their entire time at Case Western Reserve.
Prior to the pandemic, between 50 and 100 students would participate in STEP-UP each semester. Today, there are 35 undergraduate tutors serving in three K-8 schools—Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Mary M. Bethune School in Glenville, Bolton School in Fairfax, Daniel E. Morgan School in Hough. Case Western Reserve neighbor John Hay High School Campus is served by the Saturday Tutoring Program at Church of the Covenant. Eatman Williams says that team members will return to serve East Cleveland youth in January 2023.
The students who tutor are deeply committed, she says, and the demand for them is high.
“[Pandemic] learning loss is real,” she says. “We’re getting calls from schools as far east as Painesville and as far west as Lorain to provide tutors.” Time and again, Eatman Williams says that the program’s partner schools share that Case Western Reserve students positively impact achievement for the youth they tutor.
Another key to the program’s longevity and success is Eatman Williams’ passion for it, says Arthur Evenchik, Assistant to the Dean for Special Programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Evenchik assists Eatman Williams by conducting literacy training workshops for Case Western Reserve STEP-UP tutors. “Working with Janice has been such a privilege,” Evenchik says. “She is so well connected to the community and to these schools and libraries. She’s such a fixture and everyone recognizes her devotion to young people in the surrounding community.”
Since joining the university in July 2021, Case Western Reserve President Eric W. Kaler has established enhancing community engagement efforts as a university priority. Accordingly, effective January 1, 2023, the FOCUS Group will be overseen by Julian Rogers, Assistant Vice President, Local Government and Community Relations. With this elevated profile, Eatman Williams expects interest in the program to grow—from students and the schools they serve.
“This program has an opportunity to be a bridge builder and to break barriers. The more connected our campus is to the community and to residents, the more we will be able to help the university move these engagement efforts forward,” Eatman Williams says. “We do this work better together.”