A volunteer program focused on helping third-graders read at grade level plans to triple its reach next school year, sending reading coaches once a week into 15 Wichita elementary schools.
“We’ve got a lot of people who believe in our kids and want to make a difference,” said Diane Iseman, co-chair of the Women United steering committee.
“There’s so much that is built in that 30 minutes a week.”
The program, called “Read to Succeed,” launched in 2015 as part of United Way of the Plains’ pledge to help one of Wichita’s most distressed areas – the neighborhoods around Wichita West High School.
There’s so much that is built in that 30 minutes a week.
Diane Iseman, co-chair of the Women United steering committee
The group hopes to raise graduation rates and overall student achievement by attacking root-cause problems such as literacy and chronic absenteeism.
Data from five participating elementary schools – Anderson, Franklin, Gardiner, Harry Street and Jefferson – shows above-average growth in reading fluency among students who participated in the program. The third-graders met one-on-one with trained volunteers who listened to them read.
Lisa Burgess, a third-grade teacher at Gardiner Elementary, said she shoots for students to increase their word-per-minute average by about one word a week. Students in the Read to Succeed program averaged a gain of 1.5 words per minute – and several improved even faster.
“The passion that it ignites within the students makes all the difference,” Burgess said. “They go from low confidence to being really confident in their reading ability, and it helps them literally move to that next level.”
Burgess said one of her students was reading below grade level – less than 70 words per minute – at the start of the school year. By spring he was above average, reading more than 200 words a minute.
They go from low confidence to being really confident in their reading ability, and it helps them literally move to that next level.
Lisa Burgess, third-grade teacher
“I’m very passionate about this program because I’ve seen what it can do,” she said. “I see a huge difference.”
United Way plans to expand the program into 10 more Wichita elementary schools this fall: Beech, Caldwell, Cloud, College Hill, Minneha, Park, Payne, Pleasant Valley, Woodland and Woodman.
That will require hundreds more volunteers, which the group hopes to recruit from local businesses.
School district experts teach the volunteers strategies for tutoring children in reading – how to help them select appropriate-level books, listen for intonation and expression, and ask questions to gauge understanding. Then they’ll be paired with nearby schools.
Volunteers and teachers gathered at West High School on Wednesday for a luncheon to celebrate the program’s success and expand recruiting efforts.
Alicia Thompson, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, noted the importance of third-grade reading. Studies show that students who don’t read proficiently in third grade are four times more likely to eventually drop out of school.
“You are the village that is changing the lives of students in our classrooms,” Thompson said.
Want to volunteer?
If you’re interested in becoming a reading coach with United Way’s Read to Succeed program, contact Penny Olsen at 316-267-1321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.