Important COVID-19 information: Our Programs | FAQs | Resources for families

Back to News

January 3, 2013

Reading Partners pairs volunteers with students struggling to learn how to read

In 1999, Mary Wright Shaw, a nurse at Mountain View High School, was volunteering as a nurse at a clinic in East Palo Alto in the old Whisky Gulch area, which is now the site of a Four Seasons Hotel. She used to bring in children’s books from her home but found that the children at the clinic were unable to read them.

Hoping to make a change, Shaw talked to the administration at Bellhaven School in East Menlo Park. She rounded up a group of volunteers, got Stanford University to donate a trailer and tables and chairs and turned it into a classroom.

The group began working with the children after school, and that turned into class time reading instruction. Then the group, which called itself Reading Partners, expanded into Redwood City, Santa Clara, Mountain View and Sunnyvale and into downtown San Jose in 2005, among other Bay Area companies.

Reading Partners incorporated as a nonprofit in 2001 and now has programs in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Charleston, Sacramento and Chico. It now serves 40 districts in six states.

“We provide a literacy intervention program in Title I schools,” said CEO Michael Lombardo. At Title I schools, at least 35 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches.

Lombardo quoted statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that children who read on grade level by the end of third grade are more successful in school, work and life. Those unable to read at third grade level have a much higher percentage of criminal behavior and teen pregnancy, he said.

Program employees developed a curriculum and provide training and a structure for its volunteers. “Our volunteers measure reading needs and progress. They zoom in on the needs and direct their student toward overcoming and surpassing the problems,” Lombardo said.

Volunteers help out in various areas of the Peninsula and South Bay and come from many areas. After training, the tutors are supervised and supported by Reading Partners staff at the school.

Today’s teachers focus on two different approaches to reading. Some use phonics or sound out words, while others use the whole language concept to read entire words. Reading Partners uses its own specially designed combination of the two called balanced literacy, combining recognition of high-frequency words with phonic awareness.

“It’s a custom curriculum based on California State language standards for the youngest students and comprehension for third- through fifth-graders. We want to make sure students, especially English language learners, don’t just read the words but have the skill to comprehend and understand them. We teach them to practice reading and expand their vocabulary,” Lombardo said.

Reading Partners tends to focus on schools located in poor areas and with diverse populations. The nonprofit has expanded to some median income schools in Sunnyvale and Mountain View and is working to expand in San Jose. Lombardo said it is available to any school that needs help teaching reading.

Recently, with the help of San Jose City Council member Sam Liccardo, Reading Partners launched the program at Lowell Elementary School, joining five San Jose elementary schools: Horace Mann–where Liccardo volunteers each week–Horace Cureton, Los Arboles, Mount Pleasant and Robert F. Kennedy. Volunteers participate at four Sunnyvale sites including Bishop, Lakewood, San Miguel and Vargas Elementary schools.

So far, Reading Partners has doubled the number of students it works with every year, garnering 70 percent of students in existing areas and 30 percent in the new areas. It is teaching 1,000 students in 18 schools in the Silicon Valley area, including one in Hayward. Within two years, Lombardo expects to reach a goal of 40 schools and 2,000 students.

Federal funds and a recent grant from the Sobrato Family Foundation help support the organization. Sobrato has guaranteed $282,000 per year for three years to expand the program into new schools in Santa Clara, San Mateo and southern Alameda counties. Lombardo said the group plans to use 40 to 100 community volunteers to work with each child who has fallen behind in reading.

After the initial three-year period, additional Sobrato funding will depend on matching funding from other Silicon Valley donors. “The Sobrato Family Foundation’s generosity will make a huge difference for kids as we scale up our work throughout the valley,” Lombardo says.

Volunteers must have a high school education and be literate in English. Applicants must undergo the criminal background check required for anyone volunteering at a school. Volunteers are asked to commit to a minimum of one hour a week for a semester for one or more children. To apply, visit and fill out the volunteer form.

–Carol Rosen, Mercury News / Source

  • Logo for Accelerate
  • Logo for Five Below
  • Logo for Hellman Foundation
  • Logo for Bezos Family Foundation
  • Logo for George Kaiser Family Foundation
  • Logo for Panda Cares
  • Logo for The Duke Endowment
  • Logo for Deerbrook Charitable Trust

Thanks to our partners

Site by Vermilion Credits Privacy Policy ©2024 Reading Partners