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December 6, 2013

Tulsa Reading Partners Intro

Editor’s Note: TulsaKids Education Columnist Karen Moult will be sharing her experience with Tulsa Reading Partners. Read below to find out more about it and check back for more installments.

This article appears in the Web 2013 issue of Tulsa Kids

A recent Tulsa World article on Tulsa Reading Partners peeked my interest in the organization. There is a growing need for mentors, helpers, tutors and able bodies to assist teachers in Tulsa Public Schools due to increased class size, a decrease in state education funding and a 2011 amendment to the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA). Basically RSA now requires schools to retain third grade students who do not pass a reading test and do not meet other criteria for exemptions. This year’s TPS third graders will be the first to either read their way into 4th grade or not.  School administrators and teachers are scrambling to bring struggling readers up to grade level. Luckily community non – profits, local business employees and neighborhood individuals are stepping into schools, picking up a book and reading with these kids.

In mid August Reading Partners, a national non-profit, set up reading assistance sites in 9 TPS elementary schools. A site coordinator at each school trains volunteers to work as reading mentors with children. After reading the Tulsa World article I ‘googled’ ‘Tulsa Reading Partners’ and explored their website. I have volunteered in the past in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood and enjoyed helping elementary school students tackle their homework. So I signed on the Reading Partners website to start the process of becoming a reading mentor.

Sign up was easy, not requiring lots of information from me.  I immediately received an email confirmation from Reading Partners stating that they had received my information and would be in touch. A day later I received a phone call from Jill Stillwagon, Tulsa Reading Partners Outreach Coordinator. We chatted about my interest, about the program and about which school I was interested in visiting on a weekly basis. I told her I was flexible and she suggested Sequoyah Elementary, a school where 80% of 3rd graders are reading below grade level. Jill arranged for me to visit Sequoyah and meet with the site coordinator Meaghan Heatherman. She also emailed me several pieces of paperwork to fill out and bring to my first session (TPS background check).

Several days later I pulled up at Sequoyah after lunchtime. It is an old, north Tulsa elementary school made of stone and brick. Inside, the school has received a fresh coat of paint, new carpeting and new lockers. Hallways are light, student art adorns the walls and welcome signs guide visitors. After checking in at the school office I was pointed in the direction of the Reading Partners room. The room is approximately 200 square feet and formerly served as a storage space. Meaghan worked her magic and now the room has kid size table and chairs, beanbag chairs, bright posters and shelves of books. Meaghan greets me with enthusiasm and we immediately dive into my orientation.

Reading Partners has a teaching method that can be carried out by a “non teacher” such as myself. In fact, the teaching method is laid out on easy to follow laminated guide sheets. And nothing is too set in stone. To better understand a reading concept a mentor and student have the freedom to draw or play a quick game to reiterate a lesson. Reading Partners knows children’s leaning styles vary, mentors teaching styles vary and with a bit of creativity and fun, the end result will be a student becoming a more confident reader.

Meaghan said there are currently 55 Reading Partner volunteers at Sequoyah. She has 40 students working with mentors.  She has 21 more students who have been referred by teachers to receive assistance from Reading Partners. During my first visit there was a fellow empty nester, two area high school students and a Tulsa University student/athlete (rower) working with students. The room was abuzz with activity.  Meaghan said she is now to a point where most 3rdgraders who are having reading issues are being mentored so she is ready to begin assisting 1stand 2nd graders.  So the need for more mentors is vital.

I am ready to get started. I will visit Sequoyah each Monday afternoon and read with a student. My first mentoring session will be spent getting to know my Sequoyah student.

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