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May 1, 2015

Rebuilding communities starts with schools and kids

This past week, hundreds of volunteer reading partners returned to their Baltimore City schools, ready to greet the student they work with every week. While it was not entirely “business as usual,” it was back to business – and learning – for our schools and students, and another day of making a difference for the volunteers who serve them.

As a long-time educator and executive director of Reading Partners in Baltimore, I see the great need for volunteers in our schools. Our community volunteers are critical to helping our students get the additional educational support they need. They are also a vital link in forming connections, starting dialogs and gaining a greater understanding of the challenges and potential of our students and communities. These are all steps forward to heal our city.

Lt Col Hyatt, ArundelFrom the community volunteers seeking out opportunities to give back, to the police department and the mayor’s office, we have seen a commitment to raising the reading skills of some of our most vulnerable kids.

Baltimore is an exceptional example of a partnership that can lift our youth. In 2013, Mayor Rawlings-Blake launched an initiative focused on engaging city agencies and employees in volunteer service to improve third grade reading. Soon city employees started volunteering with Reading Partners to tutor students struggling with reading. Commissioner Batts and the police department also saw an opportunity to build positive relationships between the police department and the city’s youth.

More than 100 city employees and 50 police officers have been working alongside 350 additional community members to serve as volunteer reading partners in nine local elementary schools. Together, our volunteers have tutored more than 460 students and committed more than 15,000 hours  of volunteer time so far this year.

Schools are at the epicenter of our children’s lives. They are the places of knowledge, hope, and learning. They can galvanize the community and unite individuals in a common cause–to bring individuals together, all working toward a better Baltimore.

As we heal as a city, we want to focus on the opportunity for transformative change to improve the lives and educational trajectory of our youth. Hundreds of volunteers will give their time to help children learn to read, and thousands more will commit to improving education in Baltimore. This collective commitment can help change the future for students who face educational and economic challenges.

I am proud of my city, and I am confident we will emerge with even greater pride and focus on building a better city for all who call Baltimore home.

Jarrod Bolte is executive director of Reading Partners, Baltimore. A former teacher, school based administrator and interim executive director of the Office of Teaching and Learning in City Schools, Jarrod has lived in Baltimore for more than 16 years.  

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