Three hundred volunteer tutors are needed for the United Way of Kenosha County’s trailblazing Readers as Leaders program.
That’s up from 80 when the program served some McKinley Elementary third-graders and sparked striking progress in their reading levels.
The success in three years at McKinley, along with a great partnership with the Kenosha Unified School District, has the program ready to expand to Forest Park Elementary, Brass Community and Wilson Elementary schools in addition to McKinley.
It’s an important time for a program that is on the front lines of fighting a longstanding achievement gap in Kenosha County.
We at the Kenosha News have made the achievement gap a key area for discussion and improvement.
As a refresher, the achievement gap, as presented in the 2017 Baseline Report released by the non-profit Building our Futures, is seen in the proficiency rates of Kenosha County third-graders in meeting state English/Language Arts (ELA) norms. When it comes to race, the proficiency rates are as follows: 56 of white students, 27 percent of Hispanic students and 13 percent of black students. Building our Futures is the county’s first cradle-to-career collective impact effort focused on education and workforce development.
With this as the local challenge — and it’s similar throughout Wisconsin — it’s great to see what’s happening with Readers as Leaders.
The program recently recognized 80 tutors for their work at McKinley, where involved third-graders have increased collectively about 150 reading levels per year, according to Tara Panasewicz, CEO of the United Way of Kenosha County.
Third grade is the target. “If they aren’t reading at their level by third grade, research shows there’s a 90 percent chance they never will,” said Laurel Hill, a reading interventionist at McKinley, at the recognition breakfast. “We have a very short window to get these kids where they need to be.”
Readers as Leaders provides individual instruction that is making a difference for kids in need. And with the program in demand to expand, volunteers and funding are the key.
Want to volunteer? Commit to a half hour or an hour a week at a school and you can join the program. Contact Dena Johnson at the United Way of Kenosha County or complete an application at www.kenoshaunitedway.org.
Volunteer time is during the school day, which can present a challenge, but Panasewicz said workers can come over their lunch hour and many get permission for other times from employers.
“All it takes is a half hour to make a difference,” she said.
Tutors help each student involved for two half hours per week. One of those tutors, Sue Lindholm, just finished her second year in the program and saw her two students at McKinley both gain five levels in reading.
“I really enjoy the experience,’ said the retired federal worker. “I did it originally because I just retired, but as I got into it I found it was much more rewarding than I expected.”
Lindholm said the students look forward to seeing and working with their tutors. “It’s amazing,” she said. “I look forward to doing it again.”
As Readers as Leaders expands to Forest Park Elementary, Brass Community and Wilson Elementary, measuring data will become important to see what impact the program is having on the achievement gap.
For the first time surveys are being given to McKinley parents, teachers and volunteer tutors to assess their experience with the program and start the data collecting.
KUSD approves the curriculum and Building our Futures will receive the data moving forward.
Panasewicz said the program is poised to expand further, as school personnel request it. “We’re hoping to add two more schools in the next year,” she said.
It’s important to have someone overseeing the program, and for now, Panasewicz said, that position is funded by anonymous donors to the United Way for three years. “If you don’t have a person to run the program, you’re not going to get results,” she said.
Readers as Leaders is a program to watch as attention is increasingly paid to reversing the achievement gap in Kenosha County. We applaud the United Way and the volunteers and school personnel making it happen.
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Bob Heisse is executive editor of the Kenosha News and can be reached at 656-6337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article written by Bob Heisse
Kenosha News Executive Editor
Published in the Kenosha News