November 22, 2014
Reading Partners: Helping students improve Reading Partners looking for employee groups to help struggling students
By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
October 30, 2014 / Tulsa World / Source
Struggling readers in Tulsa Public Schools are outnumbering the people who have come forward to help.
Already three months into the school year, the nonprofit organization Reading Partners is still 200 tutors short in its quest to serve all 675 of the mostly second- and third-graders most in need of help. So the organization is turning to area employers to help recruit new volunteers in droves.
“I was uncertain because even though I’m an educated person, I thought, ‘I don’t know how to teach someone to read’ — and it has been a long time since I was in second grade,” said Barbara Bridges, an ethanol trader in QuikTrip’s petroleum department who tutors a child at Kerr Elementary School.
“But the way they lay out the lesson, all the work’s done for you,” she said. “It’s like we’re just having a conversation as she reads.”
Reading Partners expanded the number of Tulsa elementary schools it serves from nine to 15 this year because the need for early intervention, particularly with students in second and third grades, is so great.
According to Jessica Risenhoover, community engagement manager at Tulsa Reading Partners, WPX Energy is leading the push with about 40 volunteer tutors at Hawthorne Elementary School. Other examples are Tulsa-based Williams and Newfield Exploration Co., which each send about 10 volunteers to Sequoyah and Park elementary schools, respectively.
Level 3 Communications currently has about 40 volunteers at Mark Twain Elementary School; Tulsa Community College is sending work-study students to Celia Clinton, Jackson and Skelly elementary schools; and two full classes of education majors from Oral Roberts University are pitching in at Key Elementary School.
Bridges helped recruit 15 of her fellow QT employees to tutor at Kerr. One hour a week, she works with 7-year-old Jasmin Granados. The first order of business is for the tutor to read aloud. Bridges explains that she chooses a text that is slightly more advanced than Jasmin’s reading abilities so she can be exposed to new words they can discuss.
Next, each tutor picks up a lesson packet from one of many color-coded bins. Each bin contains specially designed lessons for different reading achievement levels, and a child’s starting point is determined by a diagnostic test all the children take when they enter the program at the recommendation of their teachers.
On Wednesday, Bridges worked with Jasmin on a lesson about the subtle differences in the sound structure of words with the vowel combinations of “ou,” “ow,” “aw” and “oa.” Last, it was Jasmin’s turn to read a text at her reading level to Bridges.
“This program is so organized and so efficient, you come in here and know you’ve accomplished something,” Bridges said.
“It’s wonderful having a site coordinator here all the time in case you have questions, and they are very flexible in rearranging the schedule or having a backup tutor when you are gone on vacation or can’t make it.”
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard recently began tutoring a second-grader named Victor at Sequoyah Elementary School. He has led a charge for more volunteers from the Tulsa Public Schools Education Service Center, so now there are about 30 district-level employees volunteering in Reading Partners.
“I am kicking myself for not joining sooner because it is intensely rewarding — more so than I even thought it would be,” Ballard said. “I have made a vow to Victor that he will be reading on grade level by the time he takes the third-grade reading test.”
The Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act, enacted last year, requires public schools to retain most students who score in the lowest range on the state reading test or who do not meet other criteria for exemptions by the end of the third grade. Tulsa Public Schools had 1,128 third-graders not meet the state’s standards this spring.
“What if two years ago, those 1,128 kids had someone who said to them, ‘I promise you I will stay with you until you can read?’ ” Ballard said. “Anybody can do this because it is so simple and the support staff is there at all times to help.
“We need to figure out how many kids we have in peril in Tulsa, and we all need to go get them and assume the responsibility for ensuring they get the help they need.”