Reading Partners Seeking Volunteers

shallow focus photography of books
 By Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

By Énoa Gibson

Washington, D.C.—Reading Partners is a non-profit that works with volunteers to help economically disadvantaged students across 19 schools in the District who are behind in reading. Their goal is to help students from kindergarten to the fourth grade master the reading fundamentals they need to reach their grade level. They are also actively seeking new volunteers to continue their mission. 

According to data from the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, 21 percent of working-age adults in Washington D.C. lack a high school diploma, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 percent of adults cannot read. 

To help lower the illiteracy percentage, at Reading Partners, trained volunteers work with students in kindergarten through the fourth grade who are at least one month behind in reading. They help the students to master the reading fundamentals they need to reach grade level by delivers individualized one-on-one tutoring twice a week for 45 minutes, following a structured curriculum.

“Seeing their growth, maturity, and newly gained confidence in their reading ability is why I believe being a ‘Reading Partner’ is so rewarding,” said volunteer and Howard University senior Nyra Lownes – Alexander. 

Howard University is one of the partners of the association.

“We greatly appreciate our partnership with Howard University, and we hope this will generate even more tutors for our students,” said Reading Partners Sr. Vice President of National Development, Karen Gardner. 

Reading Partners caters to students from kindergarten through fourth grade who are between six months to two-and-a-half years behind grade level, with 80 percent of the students representing kindergarten through second grade. 

Since working with the organization for the past five years, community manager Erika Brosnihan said that the highlight of her day “is when new volunteers send her emails checking in, explaining how the first day with their student went.”

Volunteers meet with the students bi-weekly at their schools. They currently have 728 volunteers serving 783 students. 

“Our goal for the school year is to have 1,200 volunteers, so we need a little bit over 400 more volunteers,” said community manager Erika Brosnihan. 

 Anyone can become a volunteer as long as they are 14 years or older, can follow directions, and pass a background check. 

“A majority of our volunteers do not have any tutoring experience; they come in because they are passionate about reading and want to give their time to help support a community,” said Brosnihan. 

The organization, Reading Partners, encourages high school students to volunteer since students who are attending a public school have to complete community service to graduate. College students are also encouraged to volunteer as a way to give back and balance their resumes with service.

Serving predominantly minority students, the organization struggles to find volunteers that look like them.

“We want more volunteers who look like our students,” said Brosnihan. 

“It’s inspiring and encouraging to have someone who looks like you care and invest the time and effort into your future,” said returning volunteer Nyra Lownes – Alexander.

At Reading Partners, they focus not only on skill but on the student’s confidence while reading. 

“As a reading partner, we are teaching them skills they need to succeed as a reader while also getting the student to believe in themselves,” said Brosnihan

Brosnihan tells the story of a student who she saw transform into the talented reader she now is. “She used to hide her face behind books and speak with her voice low until she gained the confidence and volunteered to read in front of the entire class. At that moment, I knew Reading Partners was a cause I wanted to support because it works,” said Brosnihan.

Of the 728 volunteers, there are now 413 returning volunteers from the previous year, signifying the constant need for more volunteers. Many volunteers come from college or high school partnerships that Reading partners has at schools like Howard, George Washington, and American University. 

Volunteers go through two hour-long formal orientations; the rest of the training is informal. The specific site coordinator that oversees that location will work very closely with new volunteers the first few times. They use a user-friendly curriculum, and all the materials provided come with a script to use as a guide.

Volunteering with Reading Partners curates lifetime relationships with the students, which impacts each volunteer.

 “At the beginning of the year, my student would be sad about having to go to Reading Partners and did not try hard. As the year progressed, she blossomed and made the honor roll. I felt like I had a part in that,” said Alexander.

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