Reading Partners continues to help students in the District thrive. (Courtesy photo)
Reading Partners continues to help students in the District thrive. (Courtesy photo)

Reading Partners, a nonprofit early-literacy organization that pairs students in under-resourced schools with volunteer tutors, has released its 2015-2016 impact reports which revealed that young D.C. children are benefiting from the program in a big way.

Reading Partners has been part of the educational landscape in the District since 2010, when officials first began placing community volunteers in low-income elementary schools to help students master essential reading skills.

The program’s one-on-one tutoring model helps students to succeed in reading and in life by engaging community volunteers to provide individualized, personal attention to each student in our program, officials said.

While the District is the center of the nation’s political power, too many capital area schools are failing to prepare our students to be future leaders, program officials said, and just 13 percent of D.C.’s fourth graders from low-income families could read proficiently in 2013, placing D.C. among the worst-performing cities in the country.

However, in the 2015-2016 school year, program officials matched 901 D.C. students at 18 partner schools with about 955 community volunteers. Those volunteers delivered more than 33,300 tutoring sessions over the past year.

Among the Reading Partners’ youngest students in the District, more than 94 percent mastered key foundational reading skills needed to read at grade level.

Based on survey responses found in the impact report, 100 percent of principals reported improved school-wide reading progress and 99 percent of teachers reported that Reading Partners is valuable to their school.

Further, the report showed that 94 percent of K-4 Reading Partner students met or exceeded their primary end-of-year literacy growth goal.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 2015 only 21 percent of low-income students nationwide, and 36 percent of students overall, were reading proficiently by the fourth grade.

This means that nearly 9 million low-income elementary school students are still learning to read when they should instead be reading to learn, officials said.

While District students fare better, those in Baltimore don’t, Reading Partners found.

Only 9 percent of low-income fourth-graders and 11 percent of fourth-graders overall were reading proficiently.

Baltimore’s struggling readers are falling well behind in literacy skill development compared to their national group of peers in the same grade, officials said. In the 2016-17 school year, Reading Partners aims to match 1,400 community volunteers with 1,150 struggling readers in the city.

By tutoring a student one-on-one for as little as an hour a week, volunteers can make an impact that can quite literally alter the course of a child’s educational experience and life, said Jeffrey Zwillenberg, the executive director of Reading Partners Baltimore.

“Our ability to be successful and grow so quickly in Baltimore is due to the incredible support we’ve received from our community,” he said. “Reading Partners has a proven, effective model that works. Yet, if it wasn’t for our 1,000 committed weekly volunteers, and dedicated AmeriCorps members and staff, ensure our program was being implemented with fidelity, we wouldn’t be able to see the results we’ve seen.

“Our ability to scale so quickly is thanks to our many community partners, like Baltimore City Public Schools, the Maryland Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism, and the numerous foundations, corporations and individuals who have invested their dollars in our work,” Zwillenberg said.

Reading Partners collaborates with local public schools and mobilizes community volunteers to provide students the reading support they need to read at grade level by the fourth grade.

The nonprofit transforms a dedicated space into a Reading Center, complete with a library and teaching tools managed by a full-time AmeriCorps member or staff member.

Reading Partners collaborates with teachers and principals to identify students reading behind grade level, and provides them with personalized literacy instruction.

“Data drives our decisions, so we are constantly monitoring our student’s success and trying out innovative ideas,” Zwillenberg said. “Whether it is partnering with other similarly mission-driven programs to implement tutoring during the summer months or introducing a new game to a lesson, we are constantly thinking about ways we can push our students to proficiency and foster a love of reading.”

This school year, Reading Partners plans to help students in 19 Baltimore City schools.

“Baltimore is a proud city filled with generous community members,” Zwillenberg said. “We want to provide them with a means to give back to the city and support Baltimore City Public Schools.”

For more information, visit www.readingpartners.org/location/washington-dc.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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