The steady supply of potential students coming to our doors became one of the primary vehicles for programmatic growth and transformation. At this transitional time, I sensed that something like transformative change was required both at the Reading Center and in the still budding small group program in order to achieve a of satisfaction from the affiliate’s board of directors that the risk they took was worth the investment. Without that, I reasoned, the centripetal forces of the affiliate’s one-to-one decentralized program still carried sufficient organizational momentum, so that anything less than sustained and even exponential growth at the Reading Center, had the potential of shifting the agency’s energies back toward the traditional model of one-to-one program delivery. Whether that perception was accurate, I cannot determine, but it was a pressing concern of mine, which I believed required the creation of a force field that would firmly establish the visibility of the Center and its small-group tutoring program in a vital place within the psychic energies of the affiliate leadership.
I pressed the issue by adding significant numbers of students to the program and placing them into our emerging groups. I sought to establish a creative instability at the Center as a means of galvanizing affiliate resources, primarily tutors, but also increasing psychic investment among the program’s stakeholders in order to meet the needs of expansive growth. As a result, we created an extensive small group-tutoring program, which in itself marked it as one of the more innovative literacy sites in southern New England and throughout the LVA network. The hubbub of activity at the Center provided considerable confirmation to the key agency stakeholders that they made the appropriate move in going forward with the merger.
The proliferation of small group tutoring enabled us to accommodate a four-fold growth in student population within an eighteen-month period from approximately 30 to 120 students participating on a regular basis. In addition to this program expansion, it was a core expectation that small group tutoring would strengthen instruction by providing students with additional time to study, opportunity to learn from tutors reflecting differing approaches to literacy, and ability for students to collaborate with each other in their learning and to build an informal support network among themselves. As described by one student, “The group lets you share your experiences with other people. You tell the group about your ideas and the group tells you about their experiences, too” (Demetrion and Gruner, 1995, p. 35). According to another student, “You talk to other people and learn something you don’t learn one-on-one; sharing life experiences” (p. 44). These bare statements illuminate only a little about the intellectual, emotional, and social substance of the small group-tutoring program that was forming in the early 1990s. They do, however, telegraph something of its dynamic influence on the lives of students in opening up collaborative educational opportunities not particularly accessible in the one-to-one tutoring model.
At the end of the Moylan period in 1989, the program supported two small groups, one in Basic Literacy (BL), the other in English as a Second Language (ESL). It was my intention to expand this component of the program once at Arbor Street, although I had no clear plan in mind specifically how this would happen. I did, however, have faith in the potentiality of the new environment to stimulate opportunities not practically realizable at the Moylan setting. My objective was to wait for and exploit those opportunities that the evolving environment of our new Center opened up.
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