How literacy and the ‘science of reading’ get a big lift from bus drivers at an Indiana school

By Christina Avery

On a recent Thursday morning at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary in Indianapolis, a bus driver doubling as a tutor held up a flashcard to two elementary school students.

“What is this?” she asked.

The flashcard featured an illustration of a table. The students, a boy and a girl, piped up with answers.

“A door,” the girl said.

“No, that’s a table,” said the boy, earning a nod of approval. The tutor asked the pair another question: What letter does the word “table” start with, and what sound does it make?

The students quickly identified the letter. But taking its sound out of context proved more challenging. The tutor gave the students a few moments to guess before articulating the word herself.

“T-t-table,” she said, emphasizing the phoneme. The students repeated after her, connecting the letter “T’ with its sound.

At KIPP Indy Public Schools in Indianapolis, using bus drivers as tutors was an unusual idea spurred by the pandemic. In October 2022, when struggles with reading among K-3 students prompted the school to find solutions, KIPP started the program. Each morning, students are pulled out of class into the hallway for 10 to 20 minutes to practice literacy skills such as sight words and phonics.

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