Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading Together Sounds Like a Success

A pilot reading program at Spring Shadows Elementary supported by United Way of Greater Houston marked its initial eight-week session in the district with a campus gathering that put thousands of dollars in the school’s bank account.

At the Dec. 11 special celebration, United Way President and CEO Anna M. Babin presented Spring Shadows Principal Jerona Williams with a special check for $5,000.

The funds will be spent on technology devices for students, such as notebooks, iPods and iTouches, and other advanced digital devices that can support reading and language arts initiatives.

Spring Shadows Elementary was one of two campuses in the region to pilot the United Way’s reading program, which is designed to train and match adult volunteers with second-graders to help improve the identified students reading skills. The other pilot school was Bruce Elementary in Houston ISD.

Adult volunteers for the pilot program, called Reading Together, included about 25 workers at Phillips 66 and United Way recruits. Volunteers learned during early fall sessions about age-appropriate books, tips for reading to young children and shared activities to try with so-called “reading buddies.” Then they met with second-graders for an hour each week.

Research has proven over and over again that children who read well at an early age will likely read more independently, and achieve more in math, social studies and science. They are more likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher education or technical training degrees.

“We know that learning to read well by third grade is essential to later success in school and in life. We’ve seen the children in this pilot program get better and better at reading. We’re happy and so excited, and we know that we can’t stop,” United Way’s Babin said.

In January 2013, Reading Together programs will be held at both Spring Shadows and Buffalo Creek elementaries.

“We see United Way’s work coming alive here,” Babin said. “All today’s students are our future workforce. To be ready for their future, they need to be reading well and ready for reading now,” Babin said.

In addition to reading together once a week, United Way made sure that children in the pilot had a personal library of seven books that they could call their own. Book nameplates were issued to stress book ownership, adding to each book’s meaning to the child receiving it.

United Way of Greater Houston has a separate goal of bringing together 10,000 children’s books through donations, and then distributing them to deserving children across the city.

“Our kids have really loved the program,” said Principal Williams. “They get off their buses and they will say ‘This is the day for reading.’ In this program, the children were also able to build a relationship with an adult outside their own families, and that is important for many children.”

“They jump off the bus and say, ‘This is reading day,’” echoed school instructional specialist, Kelly Coomes. “The kids in this program keep their teachers on track about when reading day happens. That’s how much they care.”


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