On Oct. 7, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and non-profit Reading Partners joined forces to celebrate the success of the Third Grade Reads initiative. TGR aims to bring students across the city up to grade-level literacy through volunteer based tutoring. The initiative is a partnership between the city and Reading Partners, a non-profit organization that tutors in elementary schools across the country.
Reading Partners began working in the city in January of 2012. It’s little surprise that they chose Baltimore, a city with widespread poverty and a chronically fraught public school system. In 2011, only 44 percent of Baltimore fourth graders from low-income families were able to read proficiently. By the end of Reading Partners’ founding year, the Mayor and the non-profit had launched TGR.
“Third Grade Reads helps struggling students with one-on-one tutoring,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake explained at the 2012 launch. “[TGR] will improve their reading skills and prepare them for a successful future.”
This remark touches on Reading Partner’s core idea: that one-on- one tutoring is the best way to help students. The organization relies almost entirely on volunteers. Each volunteer comes in one or two hours a week, depending on availability. Tutors use the provided curriculum, and sit down with the same child every week. By working with the same partner consistently, the tutor and student foster a relationship and have fun with one another, all the while improving the student’s literacy. In fact, studies have shown that after 26 hours of tutoring, most students gain an entire grade level in reading skills.
It’s no surprise that the primary goal for the Reading Partners is to gain more volunteers. In this way, TGR has been a great help. First, it has increased awareness throughout the city. Secondly, the Mayor recently signed an executive order that allows city workers to receive two hours of paid leave to tutor with the organization.
There is little doubt that both the efforts of the city and the efforts of Reading Partners are paying off. In 2012 the center served 41 students; now Reading Partners has expanded to serve nine schools throughout the city, with 500 volunteers serving 450 students.
When I spoke to the development manager Amanda Fisher, she strongly encouraged UB students to consider volunteering. It only takes one hour a week. The schools are spread throughout the city, so there is most likely one close to you. “The more tutors we have,” she said, “the more students we serve.”
Reading Partners has impressive goals for the years to come. According to Fisher, the hope is to expand to twenty schools and to serve 1000 students by the 2016-2017 school year.