Reading Partners encourages students to love literacy

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The pale autumn sunlight filters through the window, forming cascading streaks of light along fifth grader Boss Vasquez’s face and the children’s book ‘A Brave Thing to Do’, on the table beside him. He and his tutor, Max Bauman, pore over the book while Bauman asks Vasquez the meaning of the passage that he just read.

Although he’s only known him for two months, Bauman says that Vasquez has already opened up to him and has become more enthusiastic about learning.

A junior at Bentley High School in Lafayette, Bauman began tutoring over a year ago when he joined Reading Partners, a non-profit organization that provides literacy tutoring for at-need children in first through fifth grade. “I feel like I’ve always just been consuming, so I’m looking for ways to give back to the community,” Bauman says.

Originally created in Menlo Park, CA in 1999, Reading Partners has since expanded to 11 major cities throughout the country. In the Bay Area, 21 schools now host the non-profit, which provides volunteer tutors to children throughout the day.

The organization caters to students in what are known as “Title One” schools, where at least 40% of the student body qualifies as low income. Within those schools, Reading Partners targets students who are six months to 2 ½ years behind reading grade level.

At Berkley Maynard Academy, a charter school in North Oakland where 78% of the students qualify as low-income, the program has been particularly welcome.

Austin Saddlemire, a second grade teacher at Berkley Maynard Academy, says that he’s seen students enrolled in the program make great strides. He recalls one student who started the year able to read 24 words per minute, and who by the end was able to read 90 words a minute – a change he attributes to the extra reading practice and one-on-one instruction provided by the nonprofit. To put the difference in perspective, Saddlemire says that most of his students begin reading at 75 words per minute and end the class reading at 110. “The beauty of Reading Partners is that it reaches the students that could be struggling, and gets them before they hit that point,” he says.

Once a student is identified as reading below grade level, the teacher provides the organization with a list of the students’ weaknesses, such as difficulty with pronunciation or trouble comprehending the meaning of different book passages. During a session, tutors use curriculum created with the guidance of literacy experts and consultants, asking the students comprehension questions throughout the reading and focusing on their individual needs.

To monitor their progress, students are tested on reading skills like accuracy and comprehension three times a year with an assessment called a Rigby test. According to Rigby test results from the 2012-2013 school year, in the SF Bay Area, 87% of the students in the program improved their reading grade level by the end of the year.

Along with completing literacy worksheets, students also have the opportunity to pick out a book that their tutor helps them read one-on-one, which is something that teachers in public schools don’t have time to do. Fourth grader Jayson Ngo says that he enjoys the additional support that Reading Partners provides him. “We get to learn and take books home,” Ngo says, adding that at school he isn’t allowed to take books out of the classroom.

Ngo’s tutor, Lisa Gedigan, an operations manager at Wells Fargo, says that Ngo is often so excited for the chance to read with her that he doesn’t even mind when she pulls him out of his after-school program where he’s playing with friends. “He’s actually excited when I come and get him,” Gedigan says. “I think that that says something about how good the program is.”

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