Author: Elizabeth Figueroa, Project Coordinator, CommUniverCity San Jose
U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once said, “We have to educate our way to a better economy.”
Imagine, a class of 20 or more students where an average of ninety percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged, eighty-five percent are English Learners and ten percent have some type of learning disability. Do you suppose that one teacher, even the best and most caring teacher, could make great progress with every single student who is struggling in his or her class? Most likely not.
By leveraging people power through SJSU service learners, Accelerating Third Grade Literacy is a CommUniverCity program that is creating an opportunity for 1st – 3rd grade students at McKinley, Olinder and Anne Darling Elementary Schools who are struggling in reading to receive personal attention they would otherwise go without. The extra attention from a San Jose State University reading mentor brings these students closer to being at the correct reading level for their grade and less likely to drop out of school due to academic struggles, which can start as early as fourth grade.
Third grade reading proficiency is a powerful predictor of a child’s future academic success and Accelerating Third Grade Literacy’s one on one reading program for students in the after school CORAL (Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning) Program aims to overcome the barriers that block a student from progressing.
In addition to building reading skills, the Accelerating Third Grade Literacy provides a space where these elementary students get to interact with a college service learner. This is something they aren’t afforded in their home lives, as much of our communities do not have a college degree and are largely immigrant. The interaction with college service learners also builds confidence in the struggling students and makes college an attainable goal.
Leslie and Jocelyn are excellent examples.
Leslie and Jocelyn are big bursts of energy in tiny packages, but they weren’t always that way. I met Leslie and Jocelyn during a site visit of the Olinder Elementary Accelerating 3rd Grade Literacy Program. They spotted and ran to me as they asked eagerly if I was there to read with them. Previously, I’d not experienced an elementary student so eager to read, but I had to believe it. Once the joy of their greeting subsided, I asked to interview them and they were happy to share their story.
Leslie and Jocelyn met when the Accelerating 3rd Grade Literacy Program started. They were both in the same boat. They missed some words, were too shy to read out loud and didn’t have a favorite book. Today, Leslie and Jocelyn are not only friends with each other, but feel as though they are friends with their reading mentors (their favorites are Kim and Robin). Their mentors encouraged them to read with each other in their absence and they have. The mentees have become each other’s support system.
Today, Leslie and Jocelyn don’t feel uneasy about reading, they love it. During the school day when they have to read in front of their peers, they have confidence. It’s as if they are “on stage performing.” Today, Leslie and Jocelyn have a hard time choosing a favorite book.
Both elementary students rave to their parents about the program and their parents encourage them to stick with the program until they are fully excelling above their targeted reading level. Recognizing that they still have a ways to go, Leslie and Jocelyn want to keep and build more relationships with college mentors. They would be “…shocked if we didn’t have reading partners anymore.”
Eligibility for this program requires only that a student be below basic reading level. Information is gathered by leveling students using the American Reading Company Curriculum. No fee is required to be part of the one on one Accelerating 3rd Grade Literacy Program. Feel free to contact me (Elizabeth Figueroa) if you have any questions about this program.