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April 1, 2012

Reading program helps boost the skills of kids and volunteers

With a classroom that holds up to 15 students, PS 33 in Queens Village is now the new home to the Reading Partners program.

A California-based nonprofit, Reading Partners has been in the classrooms of public schools for the past 10 years, where it joined forces with AmeriCorp NCCC to provide tutoring in literacy. Now in its first year in New York, the organization is keen on getting more volunteers for the program.

It was founded by Mary Wright Shaw, Molly McCrory and Jean Bacigalupi in 1999. The first Reading Partners was introduced at Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park, Calif. The program since then has expanded nationwide. Today, they get their funding from fees paid by the hosting school, fund-raising and donations.

“It’s a great opportunity [for volunteers] to work with students and to help them develop their literary skills,” said Tiffany Zapico, the program manager, about the benefits of working in the program. “It’s a good opportunity to develop communications skills and build a mentoring relationship with the students.”

According to Reading Partners’ statistics, literacy is one way to ensure a child’s success and in New York “less than half of all fourth-graders can read proficiently.” Most of these students come from low-income families. The statistics also show that children who are reading below their grade level at a certain age are less than likely to graduate high school.

“I was able to graduate high school and college unlike a lot of my friends,” said Shamika Goddard, site coordinator for PS 33, at 91-37 222nd St. in Queens Village, who feels that too few students in low-income communities get this type of opportunity and that with this program students get the opportunity to get on track.

Once a student is a part of the program, he or she can receive up to 26 hours of tutoring in reading, which according to Reading Partners’ mission allows the child to advance up to an entire grade. The program data shows that after numerous tutoring sessions, the students begin to show a greater improvement in their ability to comprehend what they are being taught.

“I like it because I get to read and learn new words,” said Crystal Chaile, a 9-year-old student. “I go home and tell my mommy sometimes what I learn and my tutor is a nice girl.”

The one-to-one ratio of volunteer to student takes place during school hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Although the organization has its own staff, the most valued group of individuals are the volunteers.

Goddard said it can become difficult for her to see some of the children she cannot take to tutoring because there are too few volunteers. The more volunteers Reading Partners can attract, the more children it can take into the program.

Reading Partners welcomes a variety of volunteers ranging from teenagers, who are looking for volunteer work to use on their résumés, to retirees who have time to spare. The program only asks that each volunteer give about an hour of time a day or twice a week.

“It’s a good program where they break things down, I think a lot of schools should have it,” said Anisah Moonsammy, 24, a graduate student at John Jay College. “I do this because I want to, not because I have to. I pay more attention to the students when I give a one-on-one. I get to see their flaws and improvements. I want them to bring out their full potential. I try to enhance their best potential and having them see it.

In order to be a volunteer, each individual must apply on the organization’s website and go through the basic background check.

Other than Queens, the program currently has one program in Brooklyn at the Achievement First Brownsville Elementary, two locations in the South Bronx at PS 154X and Soundview at Metropolitan Lighthouse Charter School Reading Center and three locations in Manhattan on the Lower East Side and in Harlem on West 122nd and West 134th streets.

In addition, the program is also looking for book donations, so children can pick the book of their interest to take home and read. So far, Reading Partners has collected about 2,000 books but is looking for more.

Reading Partners is only available to students at the school where it has an affiliation. Within the following year it is looking to be located at another school in the Queens area, which would like to give its students this opportunity.

“If we’re going to be the richest country in the world, we should be doing more for our students,” said Goddard.

Trevina Nicholson, Times Ledger / Source

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