For almost 20 years, elementary school students in Jarrell have been reading to Assistance League of Georgetown Area volunteers during a special pull-out program called Reading and More. Volunteers who have been trained with strategies to use for word identification and comprehension meet one-on-one with students during the school day to help them improve their reading skills and confidence. Last year, Reading and More volunteers began a similar program in conjunction with the Florence Elementary after school program.
COVID-19 social distancing practices have put in-person, one-on-one sessions on hold, but we knew that the children needed our help more than ever. Reading and More Chairpersons Sue Vaughn and Sharron Dickerson worked with the Reading Specialist at Jarrell and Igo Elementary Schools to develop a way to read with these children over the internet.
Using Google Meet, an Assistance League volunteer joins three classrooms of students each week and reads a book to them. For her first reading session, Cindy Graham chose the book Jumanji. Some of the children were familiar with the story or had seen the movie. All seemed to enjoy the book and the short virtual book discussion. One student asked if Cindy thought the story could have really happened. The class decided that it was probably a fantasy, or maybe a dream.
Far too many children and adults read below the level that is required to be successful at school, college, and work. If children are not reading at grade level in the early years, it is very hard for them to catch up. Researchers evaluated a large-scale volunteer reading program similar to Reading & More where volunteers meet with students to listen to or read with them. Those children showed improvement on both word recognition and fluency.
Because of COVID-19 there are no TEA accountability ratings for the last school year. For the prior year only 41% of the children in Florence Elementary School met the STARR grade level performance standard for ELA/Reading. In Jarrell only 23% of the third graders met STARR grade level performance standards for ELA/Reading. These children really need our help. Our Reading & More Volunteers are looking forward to the day we can return to the classrooms and work with the children one-on-one. Until that time, volunteers and children are keeping in touch via Virtual Story Hours.