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 Volunteer Program Helps Students Master Reading

For more than 20 years, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has helped children catch up with their reading skills through the Everyone a Reader volunteer program.

The program typically brings about 2,000 tutors to schools across the county to work one-on-one with about 3,000 students each year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those sessions have been put on hold, but volunteers are excited to start them again as soon as possible.

"This is the best example of a 'win-win-win' program that I've ever been part of. The teachers, the parents, the children, and the tutors are all winners," said Pat Kreder, who has coordinated the Everyone a Reader volunteers at Kate Sessions Elementary School in San Diego for more than a decade. "Supporting students in Everyone a Reader has been one of the most satisfying things I've done since I retired."

The volunteers help students in grades 1 through 3 whose reading skills are just below grade level by listening and interacting with them as they read. This helps them comprehend and connect with what they're reading. Students are carefully monitored as they move up reading levels to achieve proficiency at their grade level.

Teachers pick the students who need additional reading practice. Each participating school has a coordinator, who manages the program for their site. This person could be a teacher, principal, or volunteer.

"I just love seeing how proud the students are when they're able to not only master the basics of reading a story, but then go that next step and actually enjoy the story for itself!" said Richard Benton, a tutor at Vista Grande Elementary School in San Diego. "Hearing the kids' teachers tell us what we do is making recognizable changes in the reading skill levels of our tutees fills me with joy."

Students from 150 schools in 23 districts throughout the county have participated in the program. They read for 15 minutes at each session and can receive as many as five sessions each week.

Volunteers get two hours of training on strategies to support students' text comprehension and spend at least 90 minutes a week reading with students. They can get work-study or community-service credit from several local colleges. Many of the volunteers are older students, retirees, parents, or military members.

SDCOE created the program based on research about the three cueing systems successful readers integrate as they read: meaning, structure, and phonics.

"Seeing what I call the lightbulb moment when children are able to read a sentence, and understand what they read, is a constant thrill," Kreder said. "I always tell our tutors that if they help just one child a year learn to read, they are making a huge difference in the world."

For more information about volunteering or bringing the program to your school, contact Cindy Dunlevy at 800-711-READ, or visit the Everyone a Reader webpage

Everyone a Reader volunteers at Kate Sessions Elementary School.