Ravenswood Classroom Partners: A Success Story in Tutoring

An R in a circle surrounded by words like "student-centered" is the logo for Ravenswood City School District, above a logo of two orange circles reading a book and the text Ravenswood Classroom Partners

Ravenswood Classroom Partners (RCP) provides community volunteer tutors in the Ravenswood City School District (RCSD) in northern California. In the 2023–24 school year alone, RCP will provide over 7,500 tutoring sessions supporting more than 450 RCSD students.

In 2022, the Ravenswood Classroom Partners and the school district embarked on a joint literacy pilot of the SIPPS® program to accelerate striving readers. Read on to learn about how their work has progressed.

In the first part of this interview, we hear from Angie Holman and Cristiana Freed of Ravenswood Classroom Partners. In the second half, Shannon Hickey, a third-grade teacher at Costaño Elementary School in RCSD, shares her experiences with RCP tutors and SIPPS.

Angie Holman, a white woman with grey hair and wearing a blue sweater, poses for a photo with Cristiana Freed, another white woman with red hair, glasses, and a grey sweater. They are both from Ravenswood Classroom Partners
From L to R: Angie Holman and Cristiana Freed of Ravenswood Classroom Partners

Interview with Angie Holman and Cristiana Freed, Ravenswood Classroom Partners

Angie and Cristiana, tell us a little about yourselves, Ravenswood Classroom Partners, and the students that you serve in the Ravenswood City School District. 

We are Angie Holman and Cristiana Freed, and we run a California-based nonprofit called Ravenswood Classroom Partners (RCP) which operates in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park. RCP provides tutoring and mentoring support to students in the Ravenswood City School District, a TK–grade 8 public school district.

Cristiana is the RCP Program Director and is a trained educator with experience as a classroom teacher, a reading intervention teacher, and a math interventionist. She has an M.S. in Literacy and Literacy Leadership with a Reading Specialist Certification.

Angie has been the RCP Executive Director since 2019 and has a background in project management, finance, and process improvement. She first joined Ravenswood Classroom Partners in 2016 after volunteering at Belle Haven School in East Palo Alto.

The tutoring work that Ravenswood Classroom Partners provides is so impactful. Please tell us more about how RCP works to support students, educators, and leaders in Ravenswood City School District. 

For more than 15 years, RCP has partnered with and supported the talented teachers of Ravenswood City School District by providing more than 130 trained community volunteer tutors. 

The majority of the RCSD students we support are from low-income households, including 44% that are homeless or housing insecure. 99% of district students identify as Latinx, African American, Pacific Islander, and/or multiple races, and 55% are multilingual learners.

The school district relies on our volunteers as integrated partners for delivering structured support within their tiered system to address student academic needs. District leaders collaborate with us to train our tutors and offer ongoing outstanding professional development coaching and support. 

RCP focuses on three areas: 

  • Literacy tutoring
  • Math support
  • The facilitation of fifth-grade book clubs

In our primary program, RCP volunteers tutor and mentor students in small groups using the SIPPS curriculum. Students meet with our tutors multiple times per week as a supplement to classroom instruction, integrated into students’ regular class schedules. 

This year our cohort of volunteers will provide the Ravenswood district with over 7,500 tutoring sessions supporting over 450 students.

“Ravenswood students thrive with the one-on-one support of their Ravenswood Classroom Partners volunteer tutors. Volunteers work closely with students to enhance their reading and writing abilities, while also instilling confidence and promoting academic success. One-on-one attention from their tutor is truly invaluable.”

—Karen Schreiner, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning, Ravenswood City School District

What is the most rewarding part of being an educator for you? What do you especially enjoy about your current roles at Ravenswood Classroom Partners? 

Eight women smiling behind a table. This includes an elementary school principal as well as RCP tutors
From L to R: Belle Haven Elementary School Principal Michelle Masuda with RCP staff and tutors

One of the most rewarding parts of being an educator has to do with witnessing the spark of understanding as it happens for young learners. Watching the moment when a child feels agency and excitement that they have the tools to unlock learning is so inspiring! 

In our current roles, we also love watching our wonderful RCP tutors develop a similar feeling of agency and excitement. They come from all sorts of professions and enjoy sharing an hour or so a week with our students.

Literacy, however, can be intimidating at first; it is so complex! Our tutors arrive at the classroom in October feeling a bit timid.

Over time they evolve into authentic and confident partners to the talented teachers and students we serve. By the end of year, it’s smiles, hugs, and impactful instruction that has supported and enhanced the learning experience for all.

How did Ravenswood Classroom Partners first become interested in SIPPS? Tell us about the 2022 literacy pilot you engaged in with the school district. 

As an organization, we at RCP continually tailor our approach to adapt to the changing needs of the students and the community. Due to the pandemic, test scores in the Ravenswood City School District have declined over the last few years, as they have in many other districts. 

[T]he district set a goal last school year to improve literacy rates by engaging students using a phonics-based tutoring program—namely SIPPS.

To combat this decline, the district set a goal last school year to improve literacy rates by engaging students using a phonics-based tutoring program—namely SIPPS. In partnership with the district, ten trained RCP volunteers took part in a fall 2022 literacy pilot along with several classroom teachers. 

Our volunteers worked with small groups of fourth-grade students multiple days a week for several ten-week sessions to provide targeted SIPPS support based on the individual learning needs of the students.

What were the results of your SIPPS pilot?

The impact of the pilot was significant:

  • 100% of the students demonstrated growth or mastery of one or more concepts covered for the ten-week tutoring period. 
  • On average, students increased their letter and sound recognition by over 50%. 

The overall results indicated that the SIPPS program is a very effective tool for developing students’ reading skills.

The success of the program led the Ravenswood teaching and learning team to ask us to expand our efforts and support more students using SIPPS instruction and help spread the joy of learning how to read. 

From L to R: Cristiana Freed and Angie Holman of Ravenswood Classroom Partners

How long has RCP been implementing SIPPS? Tell us about the implementation and how it complements the work of the Ravenswood City School District. 

This is our second year of using the SIPPS curriculum to accelerate student academic progress. 

This year we are providing four trained SIPPS volunteer tutors to each educator in grades 1–5 on two Ravenswood City School District campuses.

Our tutors meet with students four times per week for 45-minute sessions. We collaborate with the district and use interim assessments to monitor student progress. 

How do you ensure strong communication among tutors and educators?

Since we have different tutors each of the four days, we have a communications binder and group emails and texts—all of which facilitates openness and ensures consistency and coordination among classroom educators, tutors, and school leaders. 

Our volunteer tutors also record session notes that contain key information such as the lesson completed, where students did well, where they struggled, and an ending session score. This makes the handoff between volunteers efficient and seamless.    

What do you and the Ravenswood tutors appreciate about SIPPS? What do your partner teachers in the district appreciate about it? 

We appreciate how SIPPS is extremely concrete with both its scope and sequence and within the individual lessons our tutors deliver in the classroom. Our tutors come from all different professions and walks of life so having a SIPPS “curricular roadmap” provides a wonderful through line to the work.  

Our tutors come from all different professions and walks of life so having a SIPPS “curricular roadmap” provides a wonderful through line to the work.  

Our partner teachers appreciate SIPPS because the explicit framework and lessons provide continuity for all involved—students, teaching partners, and tutors.

Also, thanks to SIPPS we can easily track progress to share with students, parents, and the curriculum and learning team. We can all track the learning as it happens, and that is powerful.

An RCP volunteer tutor leads a SIPPS lesson with her second graders

What have you noticed about students’ learning and engagement? What have tutors and teachers noticed? 

One of the big takeaways from this year’s student learning and engagement has been that students really love the rhythm and pace of the SIPPS lessons. They get into it! Students even help correct our tutors if they are more in tune than we are. 

Since we started using SIPPS, we have been super impressed with how learners remind us of the routines and sequences. There is definitely a “SIPPS groove,” and it’s so easy when everybody’s aware of what they’re doing, what’s coming next, and what our overall goals are.

One of the big takeaways from this year’s student learning and engagement has been that students really love the rhythm and pace of the SIPPS lessons. They get into it!

We also love using an analogy with students that Cristiana learned: SIPPS exercises are sort of like skill-building drills in a basketball practice. You practice decoding, you practice encoding, and then you see how this helps you become a reader. It’s very similar to practicing 100 free throws and 100 layups…and then seeing how it changes your game as a basketball player. 

Reading and fluency are the celebration of these smaller “reading wins” in the same way that a basketball game reveals and brings together all the skills you practiced individually.

What insights or feedback would you share with a tutoring organization that is considering SIPPS? What would you share with a school or district that is considering SIPPS

Our SIPPS volunteer tutors are community members, most of whom have no background in education or teaching.

With amazing collaboration from the school district, our volunteers receive outstanding training and support and are able to help the district engage more students during the school intervention block. Each student has unique needs, and SIPPS small-group instruction can greatly help these needs to be met. 

This new science of reading approach to teaching our youngest learners how to read is accelerating learning and closing the opportunity gap for Ravenswood students. 

Finally, we love the transformative results that our students are getting with SIPPS. Students are not only mastering foundational skills, but we are also seeing increases in their confidence and engagement in the classroom.

[W]e love the transformative results that our students are getting with SIPPS. Students are not only mastering foundational skills, but we are also seeing increases in their confidence and engagement in the classroom.

While the teachers are the real heroes, we are thrilled to be able to help their students with our one-of-a-kind volunteer-supported hands-on tutoring program.

Interview with Shannon Hickey, third-grade teacher, Costaño Elementary School, Ravenswood City School District

Ms. Hickey is a longtime Ravenswood educator who finds purpose through teaching. She has worked in Ravenswood for an incredible nine years! Her favorite part of teaching is the relationships and class community she builds with her students. 

We recently sat down with Ms. Hickey to get her thoughts on having Ravenswood Classroom Partners (RCP) volunteer tutors in her classroom at Costaño Elementary School.

RCP is proud to support tremendous teachers like Ms. Hickey, who work hard every day to provide high quality instructional knowledge and who foster a love of learning in their students.

What is most rewarding for you as an educator?

It is amazing to see how much children can grow and change over the course of a school year. What is even more amazing is that you play a huge part in helping children develop their minds, personalities, and imaginations. The memories you make will be treasured by you and your class for years.

How has working with Ravenswood Classroom Partners impacted you and your students? 

The RCP volunteer tutors are a part of our classroom community. They make it possible for us as teachers to give the necessary one-on-one or small-group support that helps encourage students to respond to questions, practice reading with peers, and receive specific feedback. I have had RCP volunteers all nine years I have been teaching in Ravenswood. 

How many RCP tutors are helping in your classroom this year? And how are they supporting and engaging students?  

This year, I have four RCP volunteer tutors in my classroom. They support a small group of students using SIPPS

How have the students responded to having RCP tutors work with them? 

We all love having them in the classroom. Each day a student asks, “When are they coming in? What time will they be here? When are they coming back?” The RCP tutors are truly a big part of our classroom environment! 

Why is it important to give students extra academic support? 

We have many different levels of learning inside the classroom. It is very important we recognize each level and give the students the support that they need to succeed. RCP makes it possible for us as teachers to gain that differentiation in a small-group setting with SIPPS so that all students can prosper. 

What do you enjoy most about having volunteer tutor support?

I enjoy interacting with the tutors and building relationships with them as we come together for a common goal. I actually have one RCP volunteer who has been with me all nine years I have been in the district! We all appreciate the time and commitment the volunteers have made for the community. 

Any words of encouragement for volunteer tutors about how they are making a difference this year?

Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to our community! As teachers, we have seen the impact that RCP makes every day, inspiring newfound confidence and a love for learning in our students. We would not be able to reach each student without the commitment of our volunteers. 


Hear from other California schools, districts, and community organizations that are using SIPPS for reading success

Getting Reading Right: Supporting California Educators in the Shift to Structured Literacy, with Leslie Zoroya of LACOE

SIPPS Success with Children in Foster Care: An Interview with Educational Nonprofit ALIVE

How a District-Tutoring-University Partnership Serves Striving Readers and Preservice Teachers with SIPPS