I’d rather die than have to read to a group.
As noted in this Psychology Today story, it’s often cited that the fear of public speaking ranks higher for many people than their fear of death. Despite the pervasive anxiety of speaking in front of others, children are still taught to read by doing so out loud in front of their peers. Young children, especially ones who struggle with reading, frequently experience embarrassment, and even build a lifelong disdain for both public speaking, and sadly, reading. Luckily this doesn’t need to be a student’s only experience with learning how to read.
A company called Reading Partners works with 13 schools in Denver, Aurora, and Sheridan—along with more than 150 schools in eight states and the District of Columbia—to pair adult tutors with children primarily in grades kindergarten through third grade. Most of the program’s students have a reading ability from six months to two years behind their grade level. Each week they receive two 45-minute tutoring sessions with a volunteer to help get them back on schedule.
Local community engagement manager Jessica Harper is looking for 100 to 150 new book-loving adults to spend an hour or two of their time with these kids. With no teaching experience needed, and just an hour orientation, some of the best volunteers come from the most unlikely places. Harper says recently a student who had “zero interest in reading” and was fighting his way through classroom lessons was paired with a young veteran who just returned from overseas. The tattooed man didn’t “look” like an average teacher, but his story and willingness to teach quickly helped raise the student’s reading level by a year-and-a-half.
Tutoring sessions are adaptable to the traditional workday, with slots available between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Volunteers arrive 15 minutes early to read over the day’s plan (don’t worry, there are no late-night lesson planning or grading required). Then, the volunteer plays hero snagging their student out of the traditional classroom for a few minutes of one-on-one practice of reading, comprehension, and vocabulary skills. “Kids don’t have the one-on-one at home or in the classroom that really engages them and teaches them to love school and reading,” Harper says. The 2013–14 school year results are telling—94 percent of Reading Partner kids accelerated their rate of learning and 79 percent narrowed their achievement gap.
Want to help? Visit Reading Volunteers’ website for details. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a weekly time commitment, the program’s partner schools are also looking for about 5,000 new or gently used books to send home with students each week. Think: Stella Luna, Dr. Seuss, and Corduroy. You can drop them off at the Reading Partners office.
Follow assistant editor Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.