The work of a student-led tutoring group at Marshall ISD was honored this past week with more resources aimed at helping younger students pass state standardized tests.

The Starfish Society is made up of 13 Marshall High School juniors and freshmen who volunteer their Saturday mornings to tutor any and all students who show up at William B. Travis Elementary School.

Their work has caught the attention of ECS Learning Systems, which publishes test prep and instruction materials for students in kindergarten through 12{sup}th{/sup} grade. The company on Friday sent a representative to the school to honor the students and announced the donation of $20,000 worth of STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test prep booklets and materials to William B. Travis.

“The Starfish Society started last year with Chandler Kelehan and Kate Truelove,” Marshall ISD Superintendent Jerry Gibson said Friday. “They asked me which school’s students needed the tutoring help the most and I said, ‘Definitely Travis Elementary.’”

William B. Travis Elementary School was a four-year “improvement required” rated campus by the Texas Education Agency. The campus, however, was rated “met standard” this past year, Gibson said.

Marshall ISD teachers also volunteer their time and help the students organize their lessons and activities to tutor the students in all of the subjects related to STAAR testing, including reading, writing, math, history and science.

“These students give up their Saturday mornings, every week, to tutor and help out these young students,” Gibson said. “This has resulted in real gains for those students at that campus.”

Gibson said Travis Elementary students overall improved at least double digit percentage points in reading, math and other STAAR testing areas since the Starfish Society began last year.

“They have an average of 150 elementary school students show up every Saturday,” Gibson said. “They do activities with them and play educational games. It’s open to any elementary students that want to come, for however long they want to come.”

ECS Learning Systems Senior Vice President of Marketing and Events Sharon Cumberbatch recently heard about the Marshall High School Starfish Society and was so impressed by their giving nature, she also wanted to contribute.

“We learned that you had raised $10,000 to start a tutoring program on Saturdays to help your fellow students prepare for the STAAR exam,” Cumberbatch said. “I want you to know we are extremely proud of the important work you are doing. You exhibited caring, leadership, creativity, hard work, dedication and commitment, all of which resulted in an exceptional learning program for the children.”

Cumberbatch said as a result, ECS Learning Systems wanted to help the Starfish Society by providing them with 180 Star Master test prep booklets and a professional development webinar, a retail value of $20,000.

Cumberbatch also on Friday presented each of the 13 Starfish Society members a certificate and gave the district a plaque on Friday at Marshall High School.

On Saturday, Cumberbatch visited Travis Elementary School to see the Saturday morning tutoring sessions firsthand.

“You’ve been paying it forward because you want these kids to succeed,” Cumberbatch told the Starfish Society. “Because you did that, we decided to act and donate.”

The Starfish Society students on Friday said they were grateful for the donated resources and recognition from ECS Learning Systems and look forward to continuing to help their younger fellow Mavericks.

“I really like to tutor kids,” Marshall High School junior and Starfish Society member Carl Raymundo said Friday. “I love math, so that’s what I help the Travis Elementary School students with for the upcoming STAAR test. I really enjoy working with the students and giving them tricks for fractions and other problems to help them work through.”

Raymundo said he primarily works with fifth graders at the school.

“I love seeing their eyes open up when they learn a new approach to a math problem — a different way to do it that might make more sense to them where it clicks,” Raymundo said. “I’m really grateful for this award from ECS Learning Systems and I’m grateful to hear of the gains the students have made in the past year on their STAAR tests. I never really knew how much of an impact we were actually having, so it feels good to know we’re helping.”

The Starfish Society meets at 9 a.m. Saturdays at William B. Travis Elementary School and will meet every Saturday morning until the STAAR test is administered, Gibson said.