As a national organization striving to close the achievement gap, Reading Partners works with under-resourced schools to provide tutoring services and support to students who fall under projected grade-level literacy skills. Established in 1999 by three retired schoolteachers—Mary Wright Shaw, Molly McCrory and Jean Bacigalupi—who applied their experience as community leaders to create a one-on-one tutoring program for kids at a community school in California.
From there, Reading Partners spread to nine states and the District of Columbia over the course of 20 years. In 2015, Minnesota joined the effort with six schools. Within four years, the organization has expanded its outreach to 11 schools across the metro, including Lyndale Community School and both Hiawatha Leadership Academy campuses.
“We are building a wave of people that are saying that they care about students receiving the support that they need,” says Brooke Rivers, executive director of Reading Partners Twin Cities. “Reading is the foundation for opportunities and success for any student. It’s a basic and fundamental skill that all students have the right to access help for, but not all have the resources and support that they need to do so.”
Recommended by their homeroom teachers, students between kindergarten and fifth grade are able to attend two 45-minute, one-on-one sessions with a volunteer each week in the Reading Partners resource center. The resource center is a space provided by the school but cultivated by the Reading Partners organization. Trained volunteers help students with foundational aspects of literacy—the ability to read words and comprehension—in order to accelerate them toward necessary grade-level skills. Though the volunteers only have to commit a minimum of one hour a week, they have the benefit of working with the same student each session in order to establish relationships and see the progression of the students’ skill set.
“There is a kind of magic that happens with the volunteer and the student overtime,” says Rivers. “[The connection] helps with the reading skills and confidence as well to help foster social and emotional skills.”
Former teacher and fifth-year volunteer Anna Carrie Brooks says the connections she makes with each of her students makes it all worth it.
“It is based in relationships and that is really important with connecting with and helping kids,” Brooks says.
Lyndale Community School third grade teacher Patricia Covington says that, with a class of 26, it is hard to provide each student with the guidance they need. With five of her students in Reading Partners this year, she can ensure they are getting the most out of their learning experience.
“Not only does it help with academics, but it helps with self-esteem. I see their confidence building,” Covington says. “When they come back [to the classroom] from Reading Partners, they feel good about themselves.”
In addition to emotional development, each student’s literacy progress is tracked from weekly exercises and a research-driven computer test that maps the growth in the middle and end of the school year.
“We have a really high standard and hold ourselves to a high accountability,” says Rivers. “We measure what we are doing. We don’t want to just be a feel-good program but we want to be a good program that gets good results.”
In 2018, about 750 Reading Partner volunteers helped 552 students, of which 83 percent reached the required literacy goals. As for the future of Reading Partners in Minnesota, Rivers hopes to continue to strengthen the existing programs and eventually expand to additional schools in need.
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