In 2012, United Way launched United Way Reading Together. This formed part of its strategic focus on academic success. United Way Reading Together helps second and third graders become proficient readers.
Research shows that reading on grade level by fourth grade is a key academic indicator of success. Students who don’t read proficiently by fourth grade typically don’t catch up.
United Way Reading Together connects students with adult reading buddies. They help them develop important reading-related skills and build confidence. Each volunteer spends one hour per week, for a period of eight to 12 weeks, reading with a student. This extra attention and encouragement enables students to catch up.
In the first year of the program, all 80 students who took part improved their reading skills.
United Way Reading Together has since expanded to school districts outside Houston ISD. And has nearly doubled its volunteer pool to 150 volunteers.
The success of the reading program led to the roll out of United Way Learning Together in fall 2013. Kujawa Elementary School was one of the schools that took part. This is a yearlong peer-to-peer mentoring program. It involves more than 200 students in seven elementary schools in the Houston area. Fourth and fifth grade students have an opportunity to be student leaders. They tutor second and third graders whose reading skills are behind grade level.
During the 2014-15 school year, more than 450 students participated in United Way’s peer-to-peer tutoring at 14 schools in the Houston, Aldine and Spring Branch school districts.
Kujawa Elementary School is continuing its partnership with United Way and Learning Together Program. According to Kim Corrick-Jenkins, reading is important to children’s academic success. Corrick-Jenkins is assistant principal at the campus. She added that Terry Reichle (retired) oversees the program at the campus. Students meet every Wednesday and Thursday. Reichle is a former English language arts skills specialist.
Corrick-Jenkins stated that they match fourth grade tutors with selected second grade students. The tutors and tutees meet throughout the school year. They read, write, and complete literacy-based activities. According to Rhonda Merriweather, both the tutors and tutees enjoy the experience. Merriweather is the ELA skills specialist.
“The tutors and tutees gain confidence and feel more connected to school,” said Merriweather. “The tutors also develop leadership skills while helping their younger peers.“
The students taking part attended a training session at United Way of Greater Houston. The visit also included a visit from Houston Rocket’s mascot Clutch. This served as a kickoff the program. Students from across the Greater Houston area enjoyed a day full of fun. They enjoyed self-esteem and academic skill-building activities. The training session prepared them to be tutors and tutees.
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