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January 28, 2014

Reading Partners aims to improve student literacy

Reading is the foundation upon which education is built. Without the proper reading skills, students are unable to succeed in other subjects, creating a learning gap that becomes wider with each passing year.

In an effort to bridge this gap, one non-profit group is working to strengthen the reading skills of students across Baltimore City.

Reading Partners was founded in Menlo Park, Calif., in 1999 and quickly spread across the country. Today, the program assists students in schools from California to Baltimore.

According to senior volunteer coordinator Geraldine Fiesta, Reading Partners “recruits and trains community volunteers to provide one-on-one literacy tutoring to students who are struggling with reading.”

For the first year, Reading Partners has brought the program to Holabird Academy, located adjacent to the Dundalk area at 1500 Imla Street. Holabird Academy was one of three Baltimore City schools that began working with Reading Partners this school year.

All Baltimore City Title I schools — schools with a high percentage of economically-disadvantaged students — are eligible for the program.

“Schools make the decision to partner with our intervention program based on the needs of their school and how well we fit with the goals for improvement,” Fiesta explained.

Of the program’s involvement at Holabird Academy she noted, “We work closely with the principal and staff to ensure that Holabird [Academy] students enrolled in Reading Partners are getting the individualized tutoring attention they need to make gains in their literacy skills.”

Once established at a school, Reading Partners recruits volunteers to meet with students one-on-one for twice-weekly 45-minute sessions.

At Holabird Academy, tutors are working with 34 students. Overall, the program assists 211 students at schools around the city.

Each Reading Partners tutor uses a specially designed curriculum to lead students through a variety of literacy exercises designed to improve reading skills.

The program provides extensive training for all volunteers; no previous teaching experience is required.

Before beginning tutoring, volunteers undergo an online New Tutor Orientation.

“The goal of the New Tutor Orientation is to provide a new tutor with a brief introduction to the organization and to the Reading Partners program model,” Fiesta explained.

Next, tutors-in-training attend a shadow session in which they are introduced to the school’s reading center and receive more in-depth training.

During the first tutoring session, volunteer tutors complete a special lesson, called Lesson Zero. Lesson Zero allows tutors to get used to the curriculum and get to know the student they will be working with. Even after the initial training is complete, on-site coordinators are on hand to provide ongoing support to tutors.

Fiesta noted that, “site coordinators check in with tutors often to ensure that tutors have the resources they need to provide successful tutoring sessions to their students.”

In addition, Reading Partners encourages tutors to attend monthly training sessions that provide further training in a variety of areas.

The program works closely with all volunteers regardless of background or experience level.

“Reading Partners tutors hail from all segments of the community,” Fiesta explained. “They are high school students, college students, working professionals, and retirees,” she stated, noting, “Curriculum materials are designed specifically to be accessible to volunteer tutors without teaching backgrounds.”

Fiesta encourages anyone interested in helping local students strengthen their reading skills to become a Reading Partners volunteer.

Volunteers can tutor for a minimum of one hour per week.
For more information, call 410-585-7600, e-mail or visit

It is Fiesta’s hope that, with the help of local volunteers, Reading Partners can continue to expand to serve students across Baltimore.

“We are excited to have an opportunity to serve students in southeast Baltimore who had not been served in previous years,” Fiesta explained. She added, “As we continue to grow, we plan to have sites in various communities and geographic areas across the city to maximize the impact on student learning in the city as a whole.”

Source / Nicole Rodman / The Dundalk Eagle

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