Nearly 85 percent of all juveniles who face trial in juvenile court are functionally illiterate, as well as more than 60 percent of all inmates. Students who cannot read proficiently by the 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of school; 90 percent of high school dropouts end up on welfare and studies show that illiteracy directly costs the government $70 million every year, according to a list of facts compiled by dosomething.org
Our society and government are affected by the increasing issue of illiteracy. Several Union students are offering young students the chance for a brighter future by improving this aspect of academics.
For one hour a week, Union students visit various elementary schools to coach 2nd graders struggling with reading. They volunteer through Team Read, which is a part of A Renewal In School Education and Evangelism (ARISE), a collaboration of various churches partnering with schools to improve the academic life of students. The volunteer program, which emphasizes one-on-one interaction with students, began in Memphis and has expanded to Jackson.
The chance to become deeply ingrained in the life of a student appealed to Elizabeth Parks, sophomore education major.
“This is an opportunity for me to focus on one student, one 2nd grader, and really figure out how to make them comfortable with reading…our job is just to spend time with them and give them confidence,” Parks said. “Their face just lights up and they get so excited that they have that individual coach just for them.”
The goal is to help the students learn two-thirds of necessary sight words, which will allow them to progress naturally to 3rd grade reading. Parks said she hopes to inspire a love of reading.
“I hope that I’m making them excited about reading, at least want to try it and I hope that I show them different ways to look at it and it’s not just a few strange markings on a paper that you’ve got to figure it. It makes sense, it has meaning and they can do it,” she said.
To accomplish this, Parks plays games. For example, one of her students enjoys art. He understands better by illustrating difficult vocabulary. Or, if one of her students are struggling with a specific sound, they’ll have a competition, where they both try to think of as many words with that sound as possible.
Abigail Berends, sophomore education major, has also learned to tailor lessons to each student.
“I’m trying to learn how to explain the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’ to one of my students,” she said. “I explained it to him, and I’ve learned that sometimes just explaining it isn’t enough. Like, it just hasn’t clicked yet and I’m going to have to figure out how to present it in a way that will make sense to him. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m getting the chance to learn what works and what doesn’t for my specific students.”
Berends encourages students not to be afraid to be involved—no special knowledge or skills are involved.
Parks said all coaches need is flexibility and creativity.
“If you’re flexible, you’ll be willing to work with them if they are a little bit distracted that day,” she said. “If they’re wanting to draw or they want to not read, they’d rather write it out, being flexible really helps with that. It makes them more relaxed. And then being creative is so important. If you’re just like, ‘Read this list of words,’ they get really bored and really unmotivated and then you lose them.”
Team Read is giving students the tools to build a brighter future—to make sure these negative statistics don’t continue.
“I think it’s a really great program because it’s a way to address the needs of people without just saying, ‘Let’s throw money at the problem,’” Berends said. “The ability to read does affect people throughout life, so if we can help these kids now learning to read, that might help them have a better life later.”