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July 18, 2013

A âlow-techâ approach to improving literacy gets traction in high-tech Sunnyvale

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Sunnyvale is home to Silicon Valley companies such as Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, AMD, and NetApp – all widely recognized for innovations in a variety of important sectors. Yet in the same neighborhoods are elementary schools where 48% of fourth-grade students read below grade level, and 20% lack even basic reading skills. Research shows that these students are four times less likely to graduate from high school than their on-grade-level peers.

Given this high tech context, Reading Partners Silicon Valley is bringing a “low tech” approach to the literacy challenge. Our model is simple, yet robust: a volunteer donates one hour or more a week to tutor a student in reading and in-person. Over 220 employees and residents from Sunnyvale and the surrounding communities served as tutors last year. They are becoming one-on-one Reading Partners to struggling Sunnyvale readers, leading them through supportive, individualized learning sessions necessary to help them catch up to grade-level, and ultimately help to close The Achievement Gap. These volunteers are heroes.

Last year, Sunnyvale served 220 students in total, and this number will increase next year as we grow to serve five schools.  Overall, Reading Partners Silicon Valley will serve at least 1,100 students in the upcoming school year.

Technology plays a critical role behind the scenes though the core program of face-to-face tutoring sessions requires only books, our research-based curriculum, supportive staff, and faithful volunteers.. In particular, technology is critical for us to be a data-driven organization. A state-of-the-art, customized student data information system ensures quality control at Reading Partners. Leading indicators such as attendance, mid-year testing, and tutor-to-student ratios are closely monitored by the organization so that adjustments can quickly be made to optimize student learning.

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