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February 19, 2015

University Student Inspires an Affinity for Reading

When Catholic University junior Martin Larson relates how he learned to read, his voice cracks and the cadence of his response changes; “My mom made reading special for me,” the 19 year old says. “I cherish the times she spent reading to me. My love of reading grew out of the time she spent with me.”

Martin hopes to share that love of reading with students in the nation’s capital as a tutor in the Reading Partners literacy program. Reading Partners, a national organization that brought its program to Washington, DC in 2010, recruits and trains volunteer tutors to work one-on-one with students who have fallen significantly behind in their reading.

Martin first began as a Reading Partner during his freshman year of college. “When I arrived [at Catholic University], I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” he says. “When I was offered a work study option as part of my financial aid, I looked around for the right organization to work with.” Martin spent time at a handful of organizations before landing at Reading Partners Washington, DC.

“The first day of tutoring at Reading Partners I realized that I loved it,” he says. The other organizations Martin worked with were inconsistent, he says, but “Reading Partners is structured to really help students become strong readers. The curriculum is thought out and easy for all tutors, regardless of their experience.”

Over the past three years, Martin has been paired with multiple students in need of additional help with their reading. One student, Johnny, a fourth grader, would often get distracted during their lessons together. His behavior was disrupting other students’ lessons, too. Martin worked with his reading center’s site coordinator to come up with a plan for how to get Johnny back on track. They would move into the school’s library, making it “their space” to work. In doing so, Johnny was able to concentrate. Additionally, the site coordinator taught Martin how to do use short passages to monitor Johnny’s growth.

Johnny entered Reading Partners as a fourth grader reading at a 2.8 grade level equivalency. By the end of the year working with Martin, he was reading at a 4.1 grade level equivalency – more than a year’s worth of progress. Johnny’s classroom teacher had told Reading Partners’ site coordinator that he was a student who hadn’t connected to reading and struggled with the process. Yet, with Martin, he became a student engaged and excited about reading. At the end of the year Johnny had made a big shift and received a positive rating from his teacher about his attitude towards learning. Johnny could even tell his teacher the name of an author, Geronimo Stilton, that he liked to read!

Last year, due to changes at the university, Martin was informed that he wouldn’t be able to continue his work study at Reading Partners. Rather than give up on a program he thought was really making a difference, he decided to continue as a traditional volunteer — like most of the 7,000 men and women who tutor with Reading Partners nationally. “My roommates were confused, and would ask me, ‘Why are you getting up so early to tutor?’ But, I continued because I saw the difference it made in my students’ lives.”

Martin attributes his decision to become a dual major in History and Education to his experience with Reading Partners. “I hope to work with an effective organization like Reading Partners when I graduate,” he says. “It gives students something so important: an affinity for reading. A lot of parents just don’t have the time to give their children the one-on-one attention in reading like my mother gave me.”

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