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February 14, 2017

Three young lives bettered by one committed mentor

Originally published by Pearson Learning News.

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we’re talking with colleagues about their mentoring work with some of our Project Literacy partners, including Reading Partners and iMentor. There’s also a wonderful Twitter conversation about “Why Mentoring Matters.”

A Pivotal Moment

Six years ago, Wendy Congleton met ninth grader Quayla.

They were matched through Colorado Youth at Risk, a mentoring program created to support teens at risk of not graduating high school.

Almost four years later, Quayla earned her GED.

“It was such a crowning moment,” Wendy says.

“It made me realize how the fundamentals of learning—reading and math literacy—affect your long-term ability to get a job, have meaningful employment, and just get through the day-to-day.”

“Connecting with a mentor in the right way helped her advance her life,” Wendy says.

It turns out, Wendy’s time with Quayla was the first of many profound mentoring moments.

A Different Duty

This fall, Wendy started a new mentoring relationship.

“I loved being a mentor, but I needed something that was a lighter commitment.”

Through her work for Pearson, she learned about Reading Partners.

Reading Partners is a national, non-profit organization that pairs mentors with students in public school systems. In particular, they serve schools with large minority and low socioeconomic populations.

“The mission really spoke to me,” Wendy says.

The Benefits of Flexibility

“I start work early – at 6 a.m.,” Wendy says, “so I can tutor around lunchtime.”

“Plus, I work from home and I found a school that’s only three miles away.”

Once a week for 50 minutes, Wendy meets first grader Jessi at Columbine Elementary for a mentoring session.

“He’s a very energetic little boy…who is off-and-on interested in reading,” Wendy says.

“He was very far behind at the beginning of the school year.”

Reading Together

Reading Partners provides Wendy and other mentors with a detailed curriculum – lesson plans, exercises, and games.

“First, I read to Jessi. It’s a modeling exercise…a time for him to listen,” Wendy says.

Then, the pair moves on to exercises.

“It’s a lot of bringing in new sounds, and especially complicated sounds and letter combinations,” Wendy says.

The sessions end in reverse, with Jessi reading to Wendy.

“It’s called ‘Fluency,’ and it can be really fun,” Wendy says.

“Jessi reads for 60 seconds while I time him, and we count the total number of words he reads.”

They do this twice at the end of each session.

“It’s a real joy for Jessi when he improves minute to minute…which always makes my day better, too.”

Something to Celebrate

Just before the holidays, after two months of weekly sessions with Wendy, Jessi’s reading ability was re-assessed.

The results showed “a marked improvement within the time frame.”

“I’m really proud,” Wendy says.

Trial and Error

Jessi is Wendy’s second mentee via Reading Partners.

Last year, she mentored Manuel.

He was in third grade, but was reading at a Kindergarten level.

“He always did well with sounds, with words,” Wendy says. “But when we got to the part of the session where he read to me, he floundered.”

Wendy talked with the Reading Partners’ Site Coordinator at his school.

“I said, ‘I feel like there’s a missing link. He knows everything throughout the lesson, and then it’s like he’s never seen the words before.”

So they tested a different strategy.

During the lesson, Wendy solely focused on the “tricky” words for Manuel, assuming he had mastered the easier ones.

“When it was time for him to read, I said, ‘You’re going to do great. You know every word in this book.’”

During the minute-long “Fluency” test, Manuel read the whole book.

He looked at Wendy: ‘I can read!’”

“It was such a breakthrough moment for him…and for me,” Wendy says.

A Special Kind of Support

Wendy continues to see Jessi every week.

“It means a lot to me that Pearson supports this,” she says.

“Most people don’t have as much flexibility as I do, but I tell them about my experience and encourage them to get involved when they can.”

“Through Quayla, Manuel, Jessi…I’ve seen how important it is to have a strong person, a positive image, in your life,” Wendy says.

“That doesn’t happen for everybody.”

Reading Partners aims to provide individualized literacy tutoring to more than 11,000 elementary school students in under-resourced schools across ten states and the District of Columbia in the 2016-17 school year. To become a Reading Partner’s tutor or to learn more, please visit

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