Assignment: Education – Read to Success

New volunteer-based reading program being piloted at a La Crosse elementary school

Learning is happening every day in our local schools. Math and reading are given special attention at the elementary school- level.

“Those early years in education in school are the foundation for the students; the rest of their academic career,” said Lacey Sinn, La Crosse School District literacy specialist.

For that reason, a new volunteer-based reading program, intended to improve reading skills, is being piloted at Hamilton Elementary. The Great Rivers United Way is the developer of the program.

“One of the things people don’t know about what we do is we do a lot of volunteer coordination,” said Mary Kay Wolf, Great Rivers United Way executive director.

That is how Megan Tester found her opportunity to volunteer.

“For me, it was something I’ve always wanted to do was to give back, but never knew where to start or what to do,” said Tester.

She decided to take a chance on tutoring after the United Way approached her employer for volunteers to start the organization’s Read to Success program locally.

“We did a heavy recruitment at LHI,” said Wolf. “Most of the volunteers that are working at Hamilton are from LHI.”

The idea behind the La Crosse program is to match one local business with one elementary school. Tester is one of six LHI employees volunteering during their lunch hour to help improve student reading skills.

“When we recruit the volunteers we screen them,” said Wolf. “We do background checks. So we do everything that the school would do at United Way so that the school doesn’t have to worry about that piece of it.”

However, the district is responsible for training the tutors.

“It involves a tutoring handbook that was created with goals of having the students work on comprehension and vocabulary,” said Sinn. “So, no new teaching, but to solidify that comprehension and vocabulary.”

“So the tutor comes in and knows exactly what to work on with the student every week,” said Wolf.

The hope is this program will encourage student growth.

“So we are seriously measuring the scores … the reading scores of those students,” said Wolf. “And we’re expecting the natural … we understand the natural increase, but we’re looking to see above that.”

The United Way is also hoping the tutoring program will provide students with positive attention from an additional role-model.

“One of the things that makes this such a good program is that it brings community members into the schools, and I think that is a connection that might be missing or an opportunity for volunteers that is missing,” said Wolf. “So, that’s a great chance to come in and see how the classroom is working.”

The tutors volunteer at Hamilton for one hour a week. LHI allows the tutoring volunteers to flex their schedules to adjust for the travel time it takes to get to Hamilton.

A similar program has also been implemented at four elementary schools in the Sparta School District. Their tutoring program began in January and involves volunteers from throughout the community.