For elementary school children, making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn is an important step in their educational journey.
The United Way's affinity group known as Women United created a program that helps children make that transition, and Newman University has adopted a local school to help in that initiative.
Read to Succeed was created at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year after Women United heard a speaker from USD 259 talk about the need to improve reading levels of elementary students. The program focuses on listening to students read and using intervention tactics to improve reading skills.
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Rosemary Niedens said this project is a great way for Newman students, staff and faculty to get involved in the community and make a difference in the lives of children.
"If a child is behind in their grade level reading at grade three," Niedens said, "it’s really difficult for them to make that transition to using reading as a tool to learn when they’re still learning how to read and everybody else is going on to a totally different concept."
Niedens said she would like Newman to fill the volunteer spots at Cloud Elementary, and in order to do that, about 20 to 24 volunteers from the Newman community would be needed.
"We (Newman) have been assigned to Cloud Elementary. It’s one of the closer schools to Newman. This one felt, size-wise, like a good match with what volunteers we could provide and it (the school) is within about 10 minutes from the university."
Newman students who volunteer for the program will be able to report their time as service hours, and staff and faculty can either utilize their community service leave or work it into their lunch hour.
Niedens said, "It’s 30 minutes of interaction between the student and the volunteer each week. They (the program) have it worked out so that there’s training provided to the volunteers as well. The volunteer has to make a commitment from about mid-October to the beginning of May."
Penny Olsen, United Way relationship manager, manages the Women United affinity group. "A couple of years ago, the Gardiner Elementary principal was interested in implementing a volunteer program," she said. "The first year, we were in one school and had 22 volunteers for 22 students. The next year, we expanded to five schools with almost 150 volunteers."
Olsen said annual assessment tests showed significant increases in word knowledge for students who participated in the Read to Succeed program.
"The district crunched all the numbers and the results were pleasing," said Olsen. "If a child gains one word per week, that is good. Students in the program averaged 1.5 words per week."
The program has increased in size yet again, adding 10 schools for a total of 15 for fall 2017 and will add even more in the spring, totaling 20 schools for spring 2018.
Volunteers can register online by choosing a 1-hour training session on Aug. 28, Aug. 30, or Sept. 8. Niedens said those who are interested can visit the United Way Read to Succeed website or contact Newman University Academic Affairs Administrative Assistant Angela McCoy at (316) 942-4291, ext. 2308.