The gift of literacy

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Reading Partners is not only a great opportunity to help grade schoolers, but it can also offer experience for UD students. Photo courtesy of Reading Partners.

One of childhood’s most exciting memories is learning to read. For many of us, it happened at home at the kitchen table with our moms sitting next to us. One day, we understood how letters and sounds formed words.

Sarah, a little girl whose real name can’t be shared for privacy reasons, learned to read in the first grade, beside a volunteer named Beatrice Bloch.

For five months after graduating from the University of Dallas in 2015, Bloch worked full time with Reading Partners, a non-profit that helps connect students with volunteer tutors across the county.

Her work took her to Uplift Williams, a public charter school not far from UD.

For 45 minutes, she would sit with students in individual reading sessions, and, in those minutes, watched her students grow in their ability to read.

When Bloch first met Sarah, the girl was a first grader with a kindergarten reading level. Sarah was probably the furthest behind of all the students with whom Bloch worked.

“Slowly we pushed from sounding out the individual letters ‘C-A-T’ to ‘cat,’ ” Bloch said.

Early reading is often more difficult for many low-income students. Nationwide, only 1/3 of fourth graders are able to read proficiently, and this statistic drops in low-income situations, according to readingpartners.org. Students who are still weak readers in the third grade are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of school as they get older.

Reading Partners strives to solve this problem. A volunteer has the option of tutoring as little as one hour a week. Volunteers work one-on-one with a student for 45 minutes to improve their reading using the Reading Partners Curriculum.

In North Texas, there are 20 reading centers where 800 students were impacted last year.

Linda Smith, ‘15, volunteered with Reading Partners in the spring of her senior year while taking classes at UD.

The curriculum provided by Reading Partners was easy to work with, Smith said.

Smith tutored one student who fell short in reading comprehension. A typical session would include reading on one particular topic, practicing complex words and definitions and then finally reading a book of the student’s choice. During the lesson, she would ask questions to check for comprehension.

Overall, Smith’s experience taught her to appreciate the little moments she had with her students.

“I think it’s safe to say that I learned from my student as well,” Smith said. “They worked through their difficulties with comprehension to become a great reader in every way, and that was all I could have hoped for from this volunteering opportunity and more.”

Bloch’s only complaint about the curriculum is that she feels it should have been more discriminating about the books the students were able to pick. In her view, some children’s books are better than others.

Bloch agreed that volunteering for Reading Partners is not only a good way to reach out beyond the Bubble, but also that the program can give experience to those interested in teaching.

For some volunteers, it can sometimes be difficult to know if their volunteer time is well spent, or they can wonder what they actually have to offer to those who are not as well off. To the tutors, it is clear that their help is both needed and their time has great value to the children.

Ultimately, Bloch describes her time with Reading Partners as a period in which she learned compassion.

“The unsaid statement was that the parents weren’t invested or only spoke Spanish,” Bloch said, “I realized that they are relying on me.”

If you are interested in volunteering with Reading Partners, email Joseph Dougherty, ‘16, at joseph.dougherty@readingpartners.org.

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