An organization making sure that children in the Sacramento area have a chance to build the early reading skills they will need for the rest of their lives is Reading Partners – a nonprofit that provides volunteer-led, one-on-one literacy tutoring to students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade in low-income elementary schools.
According to Deanna Berg, Sacramento/Chico regional executive director for Reading Partners, the organization works in local communities to provide early intervention for children who are behind six months to two and-a-half years in reading abilities.
“Statistics show that kids who aren’t reading on grade level by third grade is an indicator for high school drop out rates and their ability to be successful as they move on through their school years,” she explains. “So we really focus on those early years with the belief that if we can catch them in that first part of their education, we’re going to get more impact in the long-run.”
Between the Lines
Reading Partners currently operates 11 programs in the Sacramento area, including two schools in the Arden area – D.W. Babcock Elementary School and Thomas Edison Elementary School – and Caroline Wenzel Elementary School in the Pocket.
Betty von Werlhof, principal of D.W. Babcock Elementary School, says this is the second year they have had the Reading Partners program at the school. She says last year, 33 students took part in the program, and this year they have 29 students enrolled so far. “That list is growing, we’re adding students every month – as we get more tutors, we get more students,” she adds.
According to von Werlhof, Reading Partners is a “wonderful program” and they received “fantastic data” from last year – of the 33 students enrolled in the program 93 percent of students accelerated their rate of learning. “The average gain for every month the child was tutored, they gained two months of reading, so they were doubling their rate of progress while they were being tutored,” von Werlhof says. “It’s really exciting. Programs like this are helping us to get kids up to grade level. Not only do they learn to read, but they can use their reading skills to learn everything else they need to know.”
Over at Caroline Wenzel, Dennalia Harris, onsite coordinator for Reading Partners at the school, says this year the program has 38 students enrolled, however she hopes to hit her 55 enrollment goal by the first week of March. She says the students know they are behind, and through a one-on-one environment students can go at their own pace and see their progress.
“Reading Partners does make a difference — when I did the mid-year review, I saw the difference and it’s amazing,” she explains. “It’s outstanding how much (the students have) grown in just three months. And that’s because of tutors – without tutors we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
So how does Reading Partners work?
Berg says the program uses volunteer tutors that provide one-on-one tutoring sessions to each child in the program twice a week. Reading Partners uses its own curriculum created and developed by education and literacy experts. There are two tracks — one for beginning readers that focuses on phonics and early reading skills, and a comprehension track for kids who are able to read, but not necessarily comprehending what they’re reading.
Teachers refer students to Reading Partners, Berg says. “When a child is referred to our program, we do an assessment to determine where they are reading, and that places them in the curriculum,” she explains. “They start there and they move through the lessons sequentially, each one builds on the next, so it’s really a highly organized system that’s really effective by our research that we’re doing.”
In addition to the initial assessment, Reading Partners also conducts assessments mid-year and at the end of year. “Our data shows for every month that they receive tutoring in our program, they make 1.6 months worth of gain in readability, so we’re really helping to move them along,” Berg adds.
The Reading Partners’ onsite coordinators at each school also work closely with the teachers and principal to keep them informed of each student’s progress. According to Tina Khatcherian, community builder and onsite coordinator for the Reading Partners program at Babcock Elementary, teachers are given the results of the students’ initial assessments, plus what strategies and goals Reading Partners will be working with. Additionally, she provides progress reports for each student when report cards are due.
“There’s not only written forms of communication, but I sit down and I observe classes in the beginning of the year, and I also find out what things they are studying so that I can do what I can to reiterate what they’re learning in class and support the teachers,” Khatcherian adds.
To keep a program like this going, a strong set of volunteers is needed. Berg says their goal is to have 750 volunteers in the Sacramento area, which serve 575 children, and their volunteers range from high school students to business professionals to retirees.
Berg says they look for volunteers that are willing to make a commitment to a child for at least one hour a week for one semester, and volunteers do not have to be a literacy expert or credentialed teacher to help out. “The nice thing is our curriculum is really designed to where each lesson has one concept that’s being explored, and it has step-by-step instructions for a tutor to be able to pull out the instruction sheet and be able to teach that lesson following the steps in the packet they’re given,” she explains. Volunteer tutors participate in a new tutor orientation and a shadow session to get started.
Khatcherian says anybody can volunteer, and they provide constant coaching, feedback and ongoing training throughout the year “in order to make that volunteer the best tutor they can be.”
And von Werlhof says the tutors also provide a support for the children, as they are able to form strong relationships with an adult. “It’s just wonderful to see the relationships that the children are forming with these tutors that come, and care about them and support them, not just in the 90 minutes a week — I’ve even heard of tutors going to some of their sporting games and other events in their lives,” she explains. “It’s very heartwarming.”
For sign up to become a volunteer for Reading Partners or learn more about how you can help through financial contributions or children’s book donations, visit http://readingpartners.org/.