Guest post by Karen Gardner, Executive Director, Reading Partners
This is the first post in a new blog series on “Building A Safer, Stronger DC,” featuring stories from grantees of the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio. View the full series here.
Right around this time last year, we first got to know Anthony* as a charismatic second grader who really liked to tell tales. Tall ones. One of the stories he liked to tell was about a shark in his bathtub, which included what the shark ate, how the shark got into his bathtub and even where it went when the water was drained. Anthony was an imaginative thinker who had thoughts and opinions on just about any topic. But when you asked him to read, the normally outgoing student would transform into a shy one, barely uttering a word.
Anthony found decoding and reading fluently a challenge. It caused him to daydream in class and rarely engage in reading, so his teacher recommended him for Reading Partners, a one-on-one literacy tutoring program for kids struggling with reading. Thankfully, Anthony’s school, Malcolm X Elementary in Ward 8, was one of two schools where Reading Partners’ program expanded significantly with the support of the City Fund just two years prior.
Anthony was about a year below grade level. When the site coordinator assessed him, she noticed that because he struggled to decode words, he would just skip over a word if he didn’t know it. He was quickly paired with two seasoned community tutors, Ms. Layla and Ms. Beth, who both had experience with shier students.
To help Anthony move past his shyness and gain more confidence, his tutors worked with their site coordinator to find ways to incorporate his own stories into the lessons. They figured if they could get him to talk about something he was really interested in, he might become more comfortable with them and therefore more comfortable reading aloud.
One day, Anthony was completing a normal lesson with Ms. Layla. The site coordinator was listening in on their session because they were always full of energy. After reading a book about butterflies, Anthony began asking Ms. Layla questions about the text just as she would have done. The site coordinator listened more closely and realized he was quizzing Ms. Layla specifically about the Monarch butterfly and was utilizing information from a previous session. She was so astounded at his confidence that she sat back in awe. Anthony went on to show Ms. Layla where in the text certain answers were and shared the information he previously learned.
This interaction showed that all his hard work had paid off. He was able to decode larger words, understand the text, and relate it to his own prior knowledge. This once shy student had developed into a now confident super reader that read literally everything on the walls as he walked the hallway with his site coordinator!
Reading Partners gave Anthony a place where he could move away from feeling like he might make a mistake, to where he had the courage and knowledge to correct a mistake. In the reading center, he could be himself. Now, in class, he is more inclined to raise his hand and readily speaks up. Anthony learned how to use the context clues in the text to better understand vocabulary words and no longer shies away from multisyllabic words. He is a much more fluent reader and now reads with expression.
Without Reading Partners, Anthony’s full potential might not have been realized. He would have continued to be afraid to read for fear of making a mistake and he most likely would have fallen even further behind.
If not for the literacy skills he acquired, Anthony also might not have discovered that he loves facts and that non-fiction books are his thing! And he might not have made new friends in Ms. Layla and Ms. Beth, who truly loved listening to his stories, no matter how tall. Their commitment to Anthony’s success contributed to the fact that he’s now on a path to a brighter future. I’m thrilled to share that Anthony finished the school year on grade level. He now understands that reading matters.
Reading matters because it is the foundation for all future learning. Yet nationwide, 80% of students from low-income households are not reading proficiently by fourth grade. In addition, not reading proficiently by the end of fourth grade makes students four times more likely to drop out of high school. Illiteracy in our country is an epidemic with serious consequences for our communities — but it’s a solvable problem. In fact, research shows that no one factor can so dramatically shape a person’s chance of success and well-being as learning to read.
Reading Partners is fully committed to strengthening our communities by working with students like Anthony. At Reading Partners, community tutors from all walks of life come together to share their love of reading and learning, empowering the next generation to succeed in school and in life. Anthony’s accomplishments are a great example of what can be achieved when a community comes together and encourages a child to excel.
In the words of his site coordinator, “Without Reading Partners, Anthony may not have blossomed into such a wonderful, brilliant student. He always has a tall tale and he can go on and on about these stories. I can see him writing a script for a children’s movie someday. When I think of Anthony, I think of the Monarch butterfly.”
*Names have been changed.