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September 30, 2022

Local children's literacy nonprofit looks for volunteers

By: Ken Duffy, WBAL NewsRadio 1090 and FM 101.5

There’s a local nonprofit that needs volunteers to help tutor young kids and improve their literacy skills.

British novelist Roald Dahl spoke openly about his passion for teaching kids about reading. He especially wanted children to be at ease with books and to not be frightened.

“Books shouldn’t be daunting,” Dahl once said. “They should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”

There’s a local organization that couldn’t agree more.

Reading Partners is a literacy nonprofit organization that operates in several states, including Maryland, to help disadvantaged kids get up to speed on literacy skills.

The effort in Baltimore City began during the 2011-12 school year and has since expanded to 14 elementary schools, where volunteers worth with children from kindergarten through fourth grade.

“The ability to read is really transformational for any student,” says Christine Pannell, community engagement director for Baltimore Reading Partners.

And it appears their work is needed more than ever.

While most every school has returned to in-person learning, the Maryland Education Department issued a report about the damage done during the pandemic.

The department found the number of kids in grades 3 through 8 passing English on standardized tests dropped from 44-percent the year before the pandemic down to 31-percent in the fall of 2021.

During the pandemic, Reading Partners switched to virtual tutoring but will now revert back to in-person instruction when their new school program begins the week of Oct. 10.

Pannell says there’s a lot of unfinished learning because of COVID-19.

“Our goal really is to work with the students who need that extra support and to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get them back on that path to grade level reading,” says Pannell.

There’s also a critical period for children to hone their reading ability while they’re younger, so they can build foundational skills that usually aren’t taught as kids become older.

“That foundation is needed for anything else you’re going to learn in your academic career,” says Pannell. “We want to work with students before that switch happens in fourth grade.”

Baltimore Reading Partners also has a new executive director leading the effort.

Zenobia Judd-Williams brings more than two decades of public and private experience to the table and recently worked for the SEED School, a college-preparatory public boarding school.

The group is also seeking more than 600 volunteers to tutor students during this academic year. Tutors will spend one hour per week with students.

“We’re looking for any and all who are willing to give back just one hour of time each week to tutor a student,” says Pannell.

For information on how to become a volunteer with Reading Partners, click here.

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