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May 12, 2015

Volunteers work to help students boost reading skills

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by Demond Fernandez, featured on WFFA abc News 8

DALLAS – Hundreds of community members across Dallas are committing to help tackle literacy gaps in local schools.

That’s why a non-profit group called Reading Partners is working with students at campuses across Dallas who may need an extra boost when it comes to reading and reading comprehension.

There is a room in W.W. Bushman Elementary School that’s become a regular meeting space for about 40 students. The room is filled with books and tutors volunteering their time to help students with reading skills.

“Okay, so do you want to read to me, or do you want me to read to you?” a volunteer asked a third-grade student as they sat down to prepare for a weekly lesson.

Volunteers with Reading Partners say the classroom has been a safe space for dozens of students since the group began helping to boost reading skills and bridge the literacy gap at the campus in August 2014.

“We are working with students who are a half-a-year to two-and-a-half years below grade level in reading,” said Ashley Huff, a programming director with Reading Partners. “Our goal is to get them caught up to grade level.”

Tutors with the group are working with students who have been identified by teachers and staff at 18 Dallas ISD campuses right now. The volunteers spend about 45 minutes a day giving the children individual reading attention. Some students meet with their reading tutors several times a week.

Yolanda Knight is the Bushman’s principal.

“By the state law, the elementary ratio is at 22-to-1,” Knight said. “We all know that working 22-to-1, students are not necessarily able to get all the help that they need. Especially, if they are a year, to two, to three years behind in reading.”

Knight said she has seen tremendous success in the short time Reading Partners has been working with her students.

Daniel Simmons, a Reading Partners site coordinator, said the volunteers are more than tutors. In some cases, according to Simmons, they are becoming mentors while making a difference.

“For many of our students, they just don’t have confidence in themselves and their abilities as students, and they really struggle,” Simmons said. “Our goal, my goal is they would come out of this knowing – at a gut level – they can be readers and they can succeed.”

Teachers and reading tutors say the students are making it happen, one word at a time.

Reading Partners currently has about 800 community volunteers working with students across Dallas. As its program grows to more campuses next school year, the group will be looking for more adult volunteers.

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