Joyful Readers: Building Confidence and Literacy in Philadelphia Schools

Joyful Readers: Building Confidence and Literacy in Philadelphia Schools

Joyful Readers, a Philadelphia based non-profit tutoring organization, focuses on providing tutoring to students in kindergarten through third grade across the city’s low-income schools, with a primary focus on black and brown students. David Weinstein, founder of Joyful Readers explains, “Philadelphia is unfortunately referred to as the ‘poorest big city’ in America. Our schools and families often have fewer resources and that is reflected in our students’ learning. Joyful Readers focuses on students who aren’t reading on grade level yet, and we’re there to provide them with the extra support they need to get on track.”

Through partnerships with both public and charter schools, Joyful Readers identifies and supports students who are struggling with reading. These students receive daily in-person tutoring sessions from highly-trained AmeriCorps instructors.

Diverse and Well-Trained Tutors

  • Joyful Readers’ AmeriCorps tutors come from a variety of racial and generational backgrounds with 46% Black, 34% White, 11% Multiracial, 7% Latinx, and 2% Asian, ranging in ages from 18-66 years old.
  • Tutors spend 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week with their students.
  • Tutor candidates must apply each year and those that are selected participate in a month-long, pre-service training program that covers topics such as youth development, curriculum implementation, and inclusionary practices.
  • A core element of the training is the Wilson FundationsⓇcurriculum, for which tutors receive publisher-approved training.
  • All tutors have the opportunity to take a graduate-level course in reading instruction, with Joyful Readers covering the cost for those who choose to pursue the credits.

Closing the Reading Gap with Measurable Results 

An independent study by Research for Action, a third-party education research firm, found that Joyful Readers students’ literacy scores improved 8 percentage points during the 2022-2023 school year, outpacing the growth that would be expected in a typical school year. Students not only improved in reading, but also made meaningful progress towards closing the gap between their assessment scores and the national median score of students in the same grade.

Students Make Gains Exceeding a Typical Year’s Growth

Here’s a closer look at the impressive results:

  • Joyful Readers’ students began the school year reading at the 22nd percentile and ended the year at the 30th percentile.
  • On average, Joyful Readers’ students received 31 hours of tutoring and grew more in reading than a typical student in the same grade.

Tracking Success with the Pearl Tutor Management System

Joyful Readers utilizes the Pearl Tutor Management System TMS) to streamline data collection and effectively measure program success for over 850 students in 15 schools. According to Weinstein, “The Pearl system allows us to track a variety of metrics, including student attendance, dosage (minutes spent tutoring), and pre/post assessments. This data is essential for demonstrating the impact of our program to stakeholders.” Pearl also facilitates communication between tutors, program coordinators, and school personnel, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding student progress.

Looking to the Future

Joyful Readers’ vision is to ensure that every struggling reader in Philadelphia has access to a tutor. In the 2024-2025 school year, they aim to expand their program to serve 1,000 students and bring on 50 new tutors. 

Joyful Readers’ data-driven approach, well-trained tutors, and focus on building relationships with students are contributing to significant gains in reading proficiency for Philadelphia’s young learners. The Pearl Tutor Management System plays a critical role in enabling them to track progress and measure success across the program.

To learn more about Joyful Readers or to make a donation, visit:



Tutor Teens: Boosting Grades & Building Relationships with Near-Peer Tutoring

Tutor Teens: Boosting Grades & Building Relationships with Near-Peer Tutoring

Born in the whirlwind of the pandemic, Tutor Teens isn’t just another tutoring program. This unique tutoring initiative, brought to life in 2020 by then high school siblings Erin and Aidan Finn, represents a student-led crusade to transform learning through near-peer tutoring. Their impact? Tutor Teens has empowered over 360 students (K-12) across 100+ schools in the Greater Cincinnati Area to conquer subjects and cultivate a lifelong love of learning.

A Case for Near-Peer Tutoring

Over four years, Tutor Teens has built a network topping 290 high-performing high school tutors (grades 9-12), connecting them with younger learners. This near-peer tutoring approach, matching high-school academic tutors with younger students one-on-one, goes beyond boosting grades. This model builds confidence, fosters independent thinking, and forges lasting friendships that extend beyond a Zoom session.

Erin Finn, co-founder, adds, “We weren’t just another tutoring program. We wanted to create a community where students could connect with tutors who understood their challenges and could guide them in a relatable way.”

Whether it’s conquering math facts, mastering history, or demystifying science, Tutor Teens tailors sessions to individual needs and learning styles. With an average of 12 sessions per student in Fall 2023, they help to improve grades, but also develop a curiosity for learning, as evidenced by reduced learning anxieties reported by students. The benefits extend to tutors as well, anecdotally reporting improvements in mental health, nurturing leadership skills, and empathy.

Beyond Grades, Building Love of Learning

Whether it’s conquering math facts, mastering history, or demystifying science, Tutor Teens tailors sessions to individual needs and learning styles. With an average of 12 sessions per student in Fall 2023, they help to improve grades, but also develop a curiosity for learning, as evidenced by reduced learning anxieties reported by students. The benefits extend to tutors as well, anecdotally reporting improvements in mental health, nurturing leadership skills, and empathy.

A Community of Equity and Inclusion

  • 52% of Tutor Teens students qualify for free or reduced lunch, highlighting their commitment to bridging the opportunity gap and making quality education accessible to all.
  • 45% of their students identify as Black, reflecting their strong dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion in education.
  • The remaining student body represents a diverse range of ethnicities, creating a rich learning environment that celebrates different cultures and perspectives.

Serving Diverse Environments

  • 73% of their students attend public schools across various settings, including urban, suburban, and magnet schools, demonstrating Tutor Teens extensive reach into various communities.

Making Learning Accessible and Engaging

Tutor Teens understands the challenges of modern life. Their online tutoring platform, Pearl, offers flexible scheduling and a dynamic learning and mentoring environment. Interactive tools like whiteboards and document sharing keep students engaged and stimulated, making learning accessible and fun.

A Vision for the Future

Always striving for greater impact, Tutor Teens plans to refine its program using data from Pearl and expand its reach through partnerships with Cincinnati-based partnerships. This will not only provide a wider range of tutors, but also offer valuable experience and training to young minds. 

Erin Finn shares, “We started small, but with the belief that young people could make a difference. We applied for a 2022 Call to Effective Action grant, knowing it was a long shot. The Accelerate team believed in us and awarded us a matching grant, contingent on raising funds from our community. Thanks to the support of the Reds Community Fund, U.S. Presidential Scholars Foundation, and Main Street Ventures, we met that challenge and continue to grow.”

The success story of Tutor Teens and its collaboration with Pearl serves as a testament to the transformative power of communities coming together to make a meaningful impact on the educational experiences of students. Tutor Teens is more than just tutoring, it is a shining example of student initiative, near-peer mentorship, and relationship-building.

If you are based in the Cincinnati-Area and are interested in joining the Tutor Teens network as a tutor or student, visit:

 We are a teen-founded, teen-led initiative using our affinity for technology to provide FREE virtual, interactive homework help to Cincinnati-area students. 

OnYourMark Education: The Science of Reading

OnYourMark Education: The Science of Reading

Established in 2021, OnYourMark Education offers high-quality, personalized tutoring services for students in kindergarten through second grade. Their science-backed approach is delivered through virtual instruction to enhance foundational literacy skills.

A Science-Backed Approach to Reading Success

Children’s brains are not naturally wired for reading, and teaching them to read effectively requires the ability to continuously track progress and make adjustments throughout their reading journey. At OnYourMark Education, tutors use research validated methods, like Amplify’s mCLASS Intervention curricula and the University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning’s DIBELS® 8th Edition literacy assessment, to guide children on their path to literacy.  Amplify’s phonics based method teaches children to blend the sounds of individual letters or groups of letters and decode unfamiliar or unknown words by sounding them out, and the DIBELS assessment ensures students are on the right track, by conducting regular assessments that pinpoint their reading level and determine if they’re ready to move forward. OnYourMark’s approach is proven to work by keeping students continuously challenged and encouraged by their tutors.
“Literacy has a profound impact on a child’s entire educational journey, from self-esteem to grasping subjects like math and science,” said Mindy Sjoblom, Founder and CEO of OnYourMark. “Our mission is to support dedicated teachers and provide clear guidance as students learn to read.

Enhancing Literacy with Data-Driven Innovation

In the Fall of 2023, OnYourMark brought highly impactful virtual reading instruction to 11 school districts across seven states and is expanding to even more districts across new states this spring. Partnering with Pearl and the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford, OnYourMark is optimized to collect and analyze their data in order to enhance their approach.
Mindy Sjoblom, Founder and CEO of OnYourMark, describes herself as ‘data-obsessed,’ and praises Pearl for improving their operational efficiency by consolidating data and enabling easy interpretation of their findings. Their collaboration with Pearl is marked by their mutual dedication to partnership and commitment to improving student learning outcomes.
“If there was ever an idea we wanted to explore, we knew we could count on Pearl as a partner to listen and help,” said Sjoblom. “Not all partners are like that and we’re fortunate for their expertise and willingness to collaborate.” OnYourMark understands that traditional high-impact tutoring models aren’t suitable for younger students with shorter attention spans, so they have adapted to shorter, more frequent tutoring sessions for grades K-2. They’ve scheduled an impressive 80,000 tutoring sessions for fall 2023 using Pearl’s bulk scheduling feature. The platform also simplifies tutor substitutions, ensuring every student receives dedicated support. “OnYourMark is a great example of how organizations can maximize the potential of Pearl’s capabilities,” said John Failla, founder and CEO of Pearl. “Their partnership fuels innovation and we are energized by their commitment to supporting those who are teaching students how to read. We look forward to seeing how their ongoing data collection efforts will impact K-2 students on their path to literacy.”

Empowering Education Through Collaborative Support

The OnYourMark Education team acknowledges and values the hard work teachers bring to the classroom. They understand that introducing a new curriculum can be time-consuming, which is why they are so focused on ensuring effective and successful methods are in place to support students on their literacy journey. 
“We’ve built a business around the understanding that teaching is a demanding profession,” said Sjoblom. “Through data-backed decision-making, OnYourMark consistently provides student support and drives impactful outcomes.”
To learn more about OnYourMark, visit:
OnYourMark Education is an individualized high quality tutoring service providing virtual foundational skills instruction to K-2nd graders grounded in the science of reading.
New Jersey Tutoring Corps: Finding Success in a Statewide Tutoring Program

New Jersey Tutoring Corps: Finding Success in a Statewide Tutoring Program

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps is addressing learning loss in New Jersey’s highest-need districts. Established within the last two years with funding from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and the Overdeck Family Foundation, New Jersey Tutoring Corps is finding success in high-impact tutoring following the guidelines of the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford and using assessment and curriculum from iReady.

More than Homework Help

“The New Jersey Tutoring Corps is not homework help. We are following research to combat learning gaps by working with school districts, YMCAs, and Boys and Girls clubs to offer high impact tutoring during the school day, after school and during summer break,” said Katherine Bassett, CEO of the New Jersey Tutoring Corps. “Students in need are identified through state testing and placed into small groups of no more than three, where they meet with the same tutor to review material in reading and math several times a week for as many as 15 weeks per cycle.”

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps offers three student support models, all proven to be effective:

    1. Embedded School Day: A 12 to 15-week cycle where students meet several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes per session.
    2. After School Tutoring: A 12 to 15-week cycle where students meet several times a week for 30 to 45-minute blocks of content.
    3. Summer Tutoring: An 8-week cycle where students meet for 30 to 60-minute sessions.

Relationship-Based Learning & Retention

An important component of effective tutoring, as identified by the National Student Support Accelerator, is relationships. By skillfully matching students and tutors and by providing students access to the same tutor for their entire learning cycle, the pair is able to build trust and consistency, leading to stronger educational outcomes. Tutors that have an in-depth understanding of a students’ needs allows him or her to develop special and specific lesson plans for each student.

In addition to positive student / tutor outcomes, the New Jersey Tutoring Corps has a 71% retention rate of field staff, which includes pre-service educators, substitute educators, community members with experience, and certified teachers. Bassett says it’s rewarding to work with pre-service educators. As students themselves, pre-service educators get to practice and hone their skills by working with students before obtaining their degrees.

Data-Driven Results

    • Students in grades Pre-K through Eighth participating in the New Jersey Tutoring Corps program receive in-person support in literacy and math.
    • Student gains have been significant with grade level performance improving from 18-28% in math and 24-27% in literacy.
    • In addition to academic achievements, students are also evaluated based on their social-emotional growth. Many begin seeing themselves more confidently as learners and viewing learning with more enthusiasm.

The Pearl Partnership

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps partnered with Pearl, a leading research-based tutoring platform, to collect the data they needed to measure the success and growth of each student in the program. Instead of juggling Google Sheets and Docs filled with information, the New Jersey Tutoring Corps now has one location where everyone on the team can find and review quantitative data including attendance, dosage, SEL surveys as well as other open fields for the collection of qualitative insights. In this way, Pearl makes it easy for the New Jersey Tutoring Corps to serve its communities.

“Before Pearl, tracking what was done in each tutoring session was convoluted,” said Bassett. “It’s much more effective for our staff to review reliable data in the format generated by the Pearl platform. Our staff are also able to keep notes in a central location that can be referenced by themselves, parents and teachers.”

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps also uses Pearl to track attendance. Bassett says connecting a student’s success to how often they were able to attend a tutoring session offers valuable insight.

Looking to the Future

“The folks at the New Jersey Tutoring Corps follow a philosophy we strongly believe in and support,” said John Failla, founder and CEO of Pearl. “Not only do they implement evidence-based programs, but they are developing their own research to contribute to the high-impact, relationship-based format. It’s a pleasure to work with passionate educators to support student achievement.”

Relationship-focused tutoring has the potential to significantly alter the learning path for students in need. By utilizing advanced platforms like Pearl, the New Jersey Tutoring Corps provides not only premier instruction but also adeptly manages data-centric decision-making and reporting.

Overseeing a statewide tutoring program, with its diverse stakeholders and multiple locations, is inherently intricate. Choosing the right tools is essential for effective scaling. The collaboration between New Jersey Tutoring Corps and Pearl emphasizes the need for constant innovation and flexibility in high-quality tutoring, guaranteeing that every student is positioned to excel in our fast-changing educational environment.

To learn more about the New Jersey Tutoring Corps, visit:

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