Nearly 400 local elementary students are waiting to be matched with reading tutors through Reading Seed.
That means the program needs volunteers — about 130 of them — to commit to read with children for 90 minutes, one day a week.
Last year, Reading Seed, a program of Literacy Connects that helps kids improve reading skills, worked with 1,192 K-5 students in Title I schools across Tucson.
"The number of students who need help with reading each year consistently outpaces the number of volunteers we're able to recruit," said Lisa O'Meara, a program manager at Literacy Connects. "With teachers being asked to do more and more without an increase in support, the need is definitely not going to decrease in the near future."
How it works
All volunteers must go to a Literacy Connects info session, pass a background check and fingerprint clearance and go through 8 hours of training spread across two days.
"We train coaches on various ways to read aloud or with students to make it fun and exciting, not just plodding from word to word, but having fun with the story," said Barbara Stauffer, executive director of Literacy Connects. "So, we're trying to do what, unfortunately, teachers can't do because of all the demands, which is to make it fun."
Literacy Connects asks that volunteers attend at least one more professional development workshop during the school year. The organization offers a variety of these workshops on different topics, as well as opportunities for volunteers to collaborate in more informal sessions such as coffee hours and book chats.
"When people join our team they really become part of a community of volunteers working together to make a real difference in Pima County," O'Meara said.
There is a $45 training fee, but the organization won't turn people away if that's a hardship and will work with them to make other arrangements.
Volunteers, also known as coaches, are asked to work with three children for 30 minutes each, one day a week (all on the same day at the same school).
Coaches spend quality one-on-one time with each child and bring books, either from the Literacy Connects library or elsewhere, that interest the children they are working with.
Kids get a free book to keep each time they meet with their coach to build their home library.
"The biggest thing Reading Seed coaches do is develop a love for books and reading," Stauffer said.
The impact Reading Seed has on students can be seen in their academic performace, Stauffer said.
"What test scores show is that kids that have a Reading Seed coach are learning on an average of 30 percent faster than kids that don't. And the younger they are the bigger it is," Stauffer said. "It's a very effective program."
Betty Atwell, who's been a kindergarten teacher at Keeling Elementary for 16 years, said she has seen huge growth in her students since Reading Seed was implemented three years ago.
"Without a doubt, I can say that the results of the program are immeasurable," Atwell said. "In just the first year of implementation alone, I saw the most growth in any class I have ever had and I can fully attribute that to the Reading Seed program. The most powerful thing about this program was the fact that I was able to pick up the pace of instruction in my own classroom because my students were able to learn things faster through the individualized work they did with their reading coaches."
The impact goes beyond academics and even extends into their families, Atwell added.
"Since starting the Reading Seed program, my students have developed a true love of books," Atwell said. "Because of the Reading Seed program, our students are leaving school excited about books and they are sharing that excitement in their homes."
The first step to becoming a Reading Seed coach is to attend an info session. Click here to see when the next one is.