"I Got This!"
When nine-year-old Nathan arrived at Reading Partners, he didn’t like to read, and he hated to read aloud. Reading, said executive director Karen Gardner, caused Nathan a lot of insecurity and fear.
But just one year later, Nathan was asked to read in front of an audience of 200 at the White House. Karen recalled the night.
“Are you nervous?” a staff member asked Nathan as he prepared to speak.
Clothed in a business suit, a confident Nathan beamed with excitement and replied, “No, I got this!”
Nathan’s story is not unique to students who work with Reading Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combatting illiteracy and helping students become lifelong learners.
“Reading is the foundation for everything else in school,” Karen said. “In third or fourth grade, teachers aren’t focusing on teaching kids how to read. They are expected to already know how. We want to make sure that our students are proficient, so that they can master the other subjects. Learning to read is critical for being an independent learner and being successful in school and in life.”
Eighty-seven percent of students who go through the program are able to narrow their achievement gap in reading, and nearly 100 percent accelerate their rate of learning.
Reading Partners pairs K-4 students who are anywhere from half to two-and-a-half grade levels behind in reading with reading tutors. Volunteers work with students one-on-one until they become skilled readers. These volunteers work with students weekly, using individually prepared lessons.
“You just have to want to help,” said Alexis Holdman, who has been volunteering with Reading Partners for the two-and-a-half years. “The kids are just looking for someone who wants to work with them, and who will try to relate to them, and listen to them. It’s a great challenge.”
A native of Denver, Colo., Alexis said she was a newcomer to DC, looking for “things to do to fill my time.” A friend at a book club referred her to Reading Partners, and she became involved soon thereafter.
Despite some initial nerves, Alexis quickly developed a strong rapport with her students. One even sent her a thank you card during the summer. “It just felt really good,” she said.
Reading Partners has branches in eight states and the District of Columbia. The DC branch pairs volunteers with students from 15 Title 1 schools.
Each student, Karen said, is given an individualized plan.
“The goal is to work towards proficiency. Volunteers help students work on a specific skill each lesson. If students don’t pass that skill, they can repeat the lesson until they do.”
“Our hope,” she added, “is that each student would become like Nathan and say, “I got this!” in any situation.”