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Volunteer reading buddies help third-graders meet goals

THURSDAY, DEC. 15, 2011

Volunteers at Opportunity Elementary School are helping third-grade students improve their reading scores.

Principal Molly Carolan said the Central Valley School District school partnered with Eastpoint Church three years ago. One of the programs is Reading Buddies. Every Tuesday and Thursday, eight to 12 volunteers visit the school before classes start to help third-graders with their reading skills.

Carolan said their goal is to have 90 percent reading at grade level by the end of the school year. The school chose about 30 struggling readers. Twice a week, the students come on a volunteer basis to meet with their reading buddy after picking up breakfast-to-go from the cafeteria. They get their folders and sit down to read a short paragraph. The adult volunteer points out the words they missed that first time, and they talk about what they read. Then they read the paragraph again, this time working on reading speed. The students get about 10 minutes of one-on-one time with their buddies.

Third-grade teacher Kellie Breslin, who helped organize the program, said most of the time, it’s the parents who get the students to the reading buddies program, but often, it’s the kids. They hop on their bikes and get to the class by 8:40 a.m. to work on their reading.

The volunteers keep track of the students’ progress.

Superintendent Ben Small said programs like the reading buddies are critical to making improvements to education. Central Valley School District released a district report card last month to show how and where CV schools are making improvements.

“We know that students who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade are much more likely to become high school graduates,” he said. “Last year in Central Valley, 85 percent of third graders were reading at grade level. We’ve set a strategic target of 89.3 percent by the end of the school year.”

School counselor Brian Hastings said the students have really taken to the program. They benefit by connecting with the adults – some of the students may have had problems in their personal lives and they can lean on the volunteers as role models. They also enjoy the reading.

“This is wonderful on all sorts of levels,” Hastings said.

Matt King, the Next Generation pastor at Eastpoint Church, said volunteering at Opportunity has been very rewarding for the volunteers. They know that many families are struggling financially right now, so helping the students feel confident in their reading will help them in the future. He loves to be able to watch the improvements the students are making, noting improvements in comprehension and words per minute.

“These kids are cool,” King said. “As a parent, you love to see growth.”

“It just gets me learning,” said third-grader Nate Peschel. Carolan said this is just one of the programs the school does in conjunction with outside organizations to help meet student needs. A volunteer provides a weekend’s worth of food to the 37 homeless students in the school. Members of Redeemer Lutheran Church have supported families in the school by buying eyeglasses for some students, helping with heating bills for families of students, or even buying Christmas presents for 40 to 45 Opportunity families.

The Washington State University Food Sense program also visits the school once a month to teach students about healthy eating, and brought the Second Harvest Mobile Food Bank for an evening to distribute food to the families.

Carolan said these programs truly make a difference when teaching students.

“When kids’ basic needs are met on a daily basis they are ready to learn.”

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