The Schools of Hope Project is a unique collaboration of the United Way of Dane County, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and Centro Hispano. Its mission is to work with school staff to increase the academic performance of students of color and those from low-income families. The program serves elementary school students in Madison, Sun Prairie, and Middleton, Wisconsin.

Led by a team of AmeriCorps members based in elementary schools, volunteer tutors are matched with children in need of additional help with reading and math. AmeriCorps members are responsible for the recruitment, screening, placement, orientation, training, support, evaluation and recognition of a diverse pool of community volunteers. The Project works closely with school staff to deliver high-quality academic support.

There are several components to the Schools of Hope Project:

  • Trained one-on-one volunteer tutors for elementary students identified by teaching staff
  • Ongoing tutor training sessions provided by school district professionals
  • Tutoring sessions guided by materials provided by the classroom teacher
  • Support for MMSD’s summer K-Ready program through placement of AmeriCorps members in classrooms to address academic needs of struggling students who will be entering kindergarten in the fall
  • Elementary Learning Kits (ELK) containing books, supplies and activities for students to keep at home, including bilingual books and activities
  • Support for school-based family literacy programs

Each year Schools of Hope serves 39 elementary schools and one after-school community program. The Project also collects and distributes more than 8000 books annually to low-income students to help them build home libraries.


The Schools of Hope Project began in 1995 as a civic journalism project by the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV that studied how active community engagement could address critical local area needs. Educational issues quickly emerged as a community priority. The Project has received grant support since 1998 from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to provide first AmeriCorps*VISTA and now AmeriCorps members who serve as tutor coordinators in Dane County elementary schools. The grant is matched with United Way of Dane County funds as well as in-kind resources from the participating school districts.


The Schools of Hope Project was evaluated in 2012 by Dr. Annalee Good, a national researcher who studies academic tutoring programs. Her findings include the following:

  1. Elementary SOH has a positive impact on student academic achievement in literacy as measured and triangulated using Text Reading Level (longitudinal), grade reports and teacher surveys. Tutored students showed greater gains in reading than a comparison group of non-tutored peers who were matched based on gender, race/ethnicity, English language proficiency and income.
  2. Elementary SOH is aligned to the existing research base on effective elementary volunteer tutoring programs and to the Madison district’s literacy curriculum.
  3. Stakeholders (school staff, volunteers and AmeriCorps members) feel they experience a high quality program.
  4. Executive Summary for our 2012 evaluation