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November 22, 2014

Churches, nonprofits help close the literacy gap among Charleston County students

by Amanda Kerr

October 4, 2014 / The Post and Courier / Source

Community groups and volunteers have rallied around the Charleston County School District in recent years to help the district’s lowest performing readers close the achievement gap.

Reading Partners is among the largest groups helping the district, with more than 800 volunteers serving 600 students in 12 of the county’s lowest performing, high poverty elementary schools.

The group started small in 2009 serving two schools as the Book Buddies program. It grew to serve 400 students in eight schools last year before joining the California-based Reading Partners organization, which offers a personalized, progressive curriculum for students.

“It was a grassroots movement that just took over,” said Kecia Greenho, executive director of the Charleston branch of Reading Partnerships. “It’s really been through word of mouth because people are passionate about Charleston County, and they want it to be a better place for everyone.”

Churches have also played a key role in offering extra reading help to students. More than 40 volunteers from First Baptist Church in downtown Charleston work with every third-grader at Memminger Elementary. In Mount Pleasant, a program started by Mount Pleasant Presbyterian and the Greater Goodwill AME Church in 2011 has grown from 57 students at one school to more than 160 students at five Mount Pleasant schools in what is now called the I-Beam mentor program. Volunteers from I-Beam will begin helping students at St. James-Santee Elementary in McClellanville in January.

Volunteer Shirley Hendrix worked with the same student at Jennie Moore Elementary for the past three years. The experience, Hendrix said, was just as much about building a relationship with the child as it was about helping him improve his reading.

“It’s not only about the reading,” she said. “It’s the relationship. This is the sort of thing that says we think you’re important to our community, and we want to be with you to help you with whatever you need.”

A similar passion took hold in North Charleston where the Liberty Hill Improvement Council launched an after-school literacy program in 2011 for elementary school students in the neighborhood that runs along East Montague Avenue. That group started with 20 students from Hursey Elementary and has since grown to 75 students from five elementary schools. High school students from Academic Magnet High School and the School of the Arts work as volunteers with the younger students every afternoon Monday through Thursday at the Felix Pinckney Community Center.

As president of the Liberty Hill Improvement Council, Robert Fludd, who runs the literacy program, said he charged his community to help close the literacy gap among students in that neighborhood.

“I told them we owe it to the young people in the community to do something about that because I saw that’s the only way we’re going to sustain the community,” he said.

All indications are the program is working, Fludd said, with schools reporting students from the program are showing growth in their reading scores on the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, test. But the real reward, Fludd said, is the excitement of the children when they succeed.

“Just to see that glow in their eyes when they accomplish a task or just get it right and they say ‘Mr. Fludd look, look see what I’ve done today.’ Just to see that happiness, that’s the reward for me,” he said.

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