School is preparing to go back in session across Central Georgia and United Way of Central Georgia’s READ UNITED initiative kicks off its sixth year with Central Georgia schools in a handful of weeks. READ UNITED is aimed at improving youth literacy in Central Georgia by improving 3rd grade reading levels. Volunteers with READ UNITED focus on improving kindergarten through third grade level reading at 13 schools in Bibb and Houston Counties.
This year, the focus remains the same, but the strategy has moved to a virtual platform. READ UNITED tutors will still be paired with students (to form bonds and relationships), but will be able to do the tutoring session completely virtually to meet social distance guidelines and recommendations as the nation still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic struck, more than 80% of children from low income families didn’t read proficiently by the end of third grade. Research shows that students who don’t read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate. Due to the shortened school year [because of COVID-19], educators are expecting an additional 30% drop in reading levels. READ UNITED organizers have set a goal of 300 volunteers making the point that tutors truly are needed more than ever.
“Every summer, students take a few steps back with their literacy progress and we call that the ‘summer slide’ simply because they aren’t engaged in a regular classroom and reading setting. Now, the summer months have more than doubled with children out of school for so many months due to COVID-19, so we are calling it the COVID slide,” said Dr. Shelton Land, Education Program Manager at United Way of Central Georgia. “The support that our tutors provide these students is vital to get them on target with grade-level reading. We have gaps to fill in the lives of these children and we can do it with the help of our community.”
In the 2019-2020 school year, 283 READ UNITED volunteers tutored 712 students in Bibb and Houston County Schools. At the end of last year’s school year, the reading scale score average for participating 3rd grade students in Bibb County, who were served by a United Way of Central Georgia READ UNITED volunteer tutor, increased by 53%. Before READ United tutorial services were suspended in 2020, 43% of participating 3rd grade students in Bibb County who started the year 1.5 grade-level behind were performing on or above grade-level based on the results of the Star Reader 360 reading assessment.
“The proof is there. The numbers show that our volunteer tutors’ help is working,” said Land. “Plus, it truly is mutually beneficial. The student gains confidence as a reader and individual, while the volunteer gains satisfaction in seeing growth. We value the volunteer as a role model and mentor for the student and we see the benefits sustaining throughout the child’s academic years.”
United Way of Central Georgia is accepting volunteers for the 2020-2021 READ UNITED year. The first READ UNITED volunteer training for this school year will be hosted virtually at the end of August or early September. To register, visit https://unitedwaycg.galaxydigital.com/need/detail/?need_id=314654.