Two years ago, the Read to Succeed program was created by United Way affinity group Women United. The goal of the program was to match volunteers with USD 259 third-grade elementary students who were reading below their comprehension level.
According to the official program page, volunteers do not read to the students; instead, the students read to the volunteers for 30 minutes with volunteers providing reading “intervention tactics,” thereby giving the third-graders extra time to improve their reading comprehension skills.
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Rosemary Niedens saw this project as a great way for Newman students, staff and faculty to get involved in the community and make a difference in the lives of children.
Currently, nine Newman University volunteers are reading coaches at Cloud Elementary and one volunteer helps out at Woodman Elementary.
Niedens said Cloud Elementary was a good fit for the majority of the volunteers. “It’s one of the closer schools to Newman,” she explained. “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.”
Since its inception, Read to Succeed has grown exponentially. Initially, the program was in only one school with 22 volunteers — one for each student. Starting January 2018, Read to Succeed will be in 20 schools with more than 400 volunteers.
Penny Olsen, United Way relationship manager, said, “Last year, 40 percent of the students in the Read to Succeed program grew at an ambitious rate in words read per minute and outpaced others in their grade level.” Students on average learned one and a half new words per week.
When asked about the program, Newman volunteers describe it as the best part of their week.
Accounts Payable clerk Tonya Nelson, said, “I was inspired to volunteer because of the need for children to have one-on-one time with an adult solely focused on them and they have all of my attention for 30 minutes. I also love the way my little reader makes me feel when I leave each Wednesday … like I made a difference.”
Staff accountant Melissa Castle explained how her history with reading during elementary school inspired her to make a difference in a child’s life.
“I struggled with reading in elementary school and I know how school can become not fun when it’s not easy. Hearing how graduation rates are negatively affected based on a student’s ability to read at their grade level really bothered me. If I can contribute in some way and a kid can start to like reading — or at least not fear it — then I want to do that. I was fortunate enough to have parents who had the time and ability to help me with my school work, but not all kids have that, and that’s something I want to do.”
Director of Nursing Teresa Vetter said she and her student focus on breaking down the meaning of words. They also use real-life examples to boost comprehension. She said the “Bad Kitty” books help her student draw relatable parallels with her own cat, therein helping her better connect with the words she’s reading.
Vetter mentioned how “it is a joy to laugh with her and see her growth in using new words. I think literacy is an important part of success. So many things we do in life involve reading.”
President of Newman University Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., also volunteers with the program. She is co-chair of the Business and Education Alliance for the Greater Wichita partnership. When the alliance caught wind of the program they wanted to promote it.
“We learned early on from preschool to high school graduation it all matters to have a ready workforce. Every kid should be ready. If they don’t read at their level in the third grade, then they’re much less likely to graduate high school,” said Carrocci.
Carrocci describes her experience as “delightful.” She noted that the program is much more than a time of listening and helping a child read; it is a time to show a child that an adult believes they can achieve academic success that leads to a successful life.
Cloud Elementary Student Advocate David Larson said he feels blessed to have such strong support from the community. “It’s wonderful to see the students believe in themselves,” he said. “The relationship between the students and their reading coaches is incredible to witness.”
Olsen hopes the program will expand to all Wichita public schools along with surrounding communities. For more information on how to register to be a coach starting January 2018, contact Olsen at (316) 267-1321 or [email protected].