The tipping point for many children in our country occurs not when they’re 21 or 24, but when they are 8! If children are not at grade level in reading by the end of third grade, the probability increases that by the time they are teens, they will have dropped out of school and/or fallen into substance abuse, premature pregnancy, juvenile crime, etc. If you don’t believe this, consider the following: State planners are known to use third-grade reading scores to predict the number of future prison beds the state will need 10 years down the road (The Washington Post, July 6, 2004).
The ability to read proficiently is crucially important to a child’s future because the nature of the U.S. economy changed dramatically in the 1990s; skills have become more important than hard work, background or whatever previously had made for a successful life. Research tells us that the skills associated with reading and math now trump ethnicity and poverty as the most powerful predictors of success in life (Tough, 2009). Children who read well tend to finish school, complete college and compete successfully for good jobs in our high-tech world.
However, unfortunately for some children, this race to the top begins before they ever reach the starting line. In their research, Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that by age 3, children from high-literacy homes have heard 30 million words and have a vocabulary of 1,000 words, whereas children from low-literacy homes have heard only 10 million words and have a vocabulary of only 525 words. The language environment in these impoverished homes means these children are greatly disadvantaged when entering kindergarten and their chances of catching up are very slim. The good news is that research also shows that with extra learning opportunities, children’s ability to grasp language can be improved dramatically and they can overcome their early handicap.
Read to Succeed, a local nonprofit literacy program, provides free reading assistance to underachieving children. We recruit and train volunteer reading coaches and reading buddies to work with children one-on-one during school hours. Our literacy volunteers use a multisensory phonics approach (Orton-Gillingham) shown to be effective with children from low-literacy homes.
Training occurs over several months for reading coaches and several days for reading buddies and includes practicum sessions with a R2S student. When training is successfully completed, the volunteer continues to work with the student until she or he is at reading level or finished third grade. Each year, about 65 percent of our students reach grade level.
Please join us in helping our students rewrite their futures. Join our next reading coach training, which begins the week of Jan. 15 and consists of 40 hours over the next three months, or the reading buddy training that begins Feb. 7 and lasts for 7.5 hours over three half-days.
For details, please visit our website www.r2sasheville.org or call the R2S office at 828-747-2277. Join our corps of hardworking volunteers who are helping to change children’s life stories every day.
— Catherine Alter
Read to Succeed board chair