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May 1, 2014

Reading Partners literary program gets boost from AmeriCorps staff


AmeriCorps members assigned to a literacy tutoring program in nine local schools celebrated AmeriCorps’ 20th anniversary Friday with — what else? A special day of service.

Reading Partners’ AmeriCorps members were joined by a slate of community leaders and AmeriCorps members from more than a half-dozen Tulsa-area groups to tutor elementary school students who are reading between a half year and 2½ years below grade level.

“AmeriCorps members are civic-minded people who want to give back to America,” said Jaisy Myers, the regional site coordinator for Reading Partners-Tulsa. “For me personally, it was a call to arms because the education system in America is not equal across all lines.”

AmeriCorps is a federal community service program.

In Tulsa, Reading Partners is serving more than 400 elementary school students in nine Tulsa Public Schools sites with the work of 600 volunteers.

More volunteers are needed, as every school site has a waiting list of students in need of the extra help. Plus, Reading Partners is recruiting new volunteers to serve students at six additional TPS sites in 2014-15 and at a special, one-month summer program for third-graders who fail the state reading test and risk being held back come fall.

Leaders from city government, higher education, corporations and nonprofit organizations tutored students at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, 2601 E. Fifth Place, on Friday.

Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of AmeriCorps members from Camp Fire Green Country, Owasso Community Resources, Crossroads Clubhouse, Tulsa City-County Library, Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, City Year and Teach for America worked with students throughout the day at Anderson Elementary School, 1921 E. 29th St. North.

Kathleen Boehme, who normally mentors students full time at Clinton Middle School, 2224 W. 41st St., through an AmeriCorps program called City Year, spent the morning helping Anderson third-grader Anthony Fisher.

Together they read a book called “The Gruffalo’s Child” about a scary-looking, buffalo-like creature with big white horns and sharp teeth and claws, and then worked on a lesson about “making more inferences.”

“What is an inference?” Boehme asked the boy.

“You have to use your brain to know it,” Anthony answered.

“Right. It’s not in the story. You have to figure it out,” she said.

Based on the gruffalo’s assessment of how a little mouse on one page would taste, Boehme wondered aloud about whether Anthony thought the gruffalo would make a meal of it.

“You think he’s going to eat him?” she asked.

“No, I think they’re going to be friends,” Anthony said, smiling.

The next pair over were City Year mentor Brooke Thedford, who is normally assigned to Kendall-Whittier, and Madison Cohn, a second-grader. They worked on a word lesson, reviewing the definition of common or “high frequency” words — “before,” “after” and “want.”

“These are words you say a lot and can spell,” Madison said proudly.

Site Coordinator Kelly Olive said that although Anderson has about 50 active volunteers, including state Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, and large groups from the First Baptist Church, Methodist Manor and Wright Christian Academy, they can only serve 40 children, and another 30 are still on a waiting list.

Myers and her husband left their engineering jobs at a naval base in California last year and relocated to Tulsa with their toddler son so she could take an AmeriCorps assignment with Reading Partners.

“My husband is from Tulsa, and when we would come for visits, we would talk to people about whether we would want our son to go to Tulsa Public Schools, and the answer was always, ‘Probably not, because the system isn’t as good as it could be.’

“I see this as a chance to make a difference, even in a small way,” she said.

About Reading Partners

Founded: In 1999 in Menlo Park, Calif. Expanded to Tulsa in 2013.

How it works: Teachers identify students and then children take placement tests so tutors can pick up right where they got behind.

Volunteers: Range in age from high school students through retirees (must be +14 years to volunteer). No previous literacy training or experience is required because every lesson comes with a simple script to follow.

Serves: Students in more than 40 school districts in seven states and the District of Columbia.

In Tulsa: Anderson, Cooper, Eugene Field, Jackson, Kendall-Whittier, Mark Twain, McClure, Mitchell and Sequoyah elementary schools are currently served. The program will expand to also serve these six elementary schools next school year: Celia Clinton, Hawthorne, Kerr, Key, Park and Skelly.

More information or to volunteer: Contact Dawn Lowe, volunteer coordinator, at 918-949-1979.

Source / Tulsa World / Andrea Eger / April, 25, 2014

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