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February 19, 2015

Principal Pat Mitchell's story in her own words

Why Reading Partners Works

Patricia Mitchell is the principal of PS 48, an elementary school in the South Jamaica neighborhood in New York City. Pat has been an educator for the past 23 years, half of those years in a classroom in Brooklyn. Pat has been principal of PS 48, a school serving predominantly students of color from low-income families, since 2007.

How did you first learn about Reading Partners?

We have a community advocate who has his finger on the pulse of everything good. He said he’d heard about a program called Reading Partners at a school in Queens, so we made an appointment to go see it in action. From the minute we walked into the room, we got the sense that this program was something incredible. The children were at ease, the environment was warm and inviting, and the volunteers were very comfortable. I said, “I have to have this at my school.”

Why are strong literacy skills so important?

More and more we know that literacy is not just important when we read books, but in everything we do and how we make sense of the world. Reading is fundamental to everything from being able to function as a citizen and paying bills to getting around town and how we tackle math. There is truly an all-important connection between reading and all disciplines.

How has your partnership with Reading Partners made a difference at your school?

Reading Partners is an amazing entity here because there is a triangular approach to what they do. First, they reach out to students and create these amazing relationships between students and volunteers—members of our community who come in to give back. I am in awe of the volunteers who give their time to help a student in need. Second, Reading Partners reaches out to parents to create a strong partnership, so that parents are reminded of just how integral they are to what goes on in their child’s life at school. Finally, Reading Partners serves as another lifeline to teachers who can seek out [site coordinator] Kiana and [program manager] Tiffany to say, “Hey, listen, I just got a new student today who I know needs extra help. Can we talk?” Consequently, teachers have respect for this program because it speaks to their needs. Teachers understand that when they have 32 kids in a class, it’s difficult for them to do what they want to do for every single student. So the new competence that Reading Partners helps our scholars to achieve, the reassurance they provide to parents, and the support they give to teachers is amazing.

What do you think is the biggest benefit for a student in having that one-on-one time with a tutor?

If you were a lay person and you just walked into a reading center and saw what was going on you might say, “Some kids are reading with adults. Big deal.” However, having a long standing background in education, I know what works and why.

Reading Partners brings to life the adage of Dr. James Comer that “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” I have held that belief for many years. That’s what happens in Reading Partners; they create significant relationships and learning occurs.

What benefits do you see in having community volunteers work inside your schools through Reading Partners?

I feel very strongly that raising a child does take a village. That may sound corny, but I think people need to make the connection between how our children fare in school and the strength of our community. What happens now affects what is going to happen 20 years from now. If we are going to close the achievement gap and break this cycle of poverty, we have to start now. When people come into this building to volunteer, they get that connection. Our mantra here at PS-48 is “Our scholars, our community, our future.” It’s that simple.

I believe that people should not only have the opportunity to help these scholars, one kid at a time, but that they should seize it. Reading Partners makes that opportunity happen for our community.

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