Submitted by United Way of Thurston County

The United Way’s Reading Buddy program wrapped up their 5th year supporting elementary schools, teachers and students by recruiting and connecting community volunteers as Reading Buddies.  Reading Buddies help our schools by working with students who struggle to read at grade level.  Reading Buddies help them sound out tricky words, discuss new vocabulary and ask questions about the story.  Reading Buddies provide one on one time for a student who may not have someone read to them at home.

United Way of Thurston County Reading Buddy
The United Way Reading Buddy program helped 800 students across three counties. Photo courtesy: United Way of Thurston County

Here is a program summary of the recently concluded 2016-2017 school year.  Just over 800 students in 28 elementary schools received Reading Buddy support with just over 5,100 hours helping students read in Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties.  Ninety-six percent of student test scores showed improved reading skills.  Our school partners shared that not only do students become more confident readers; they see many students improve in social and emotional skills from interacting with a caring adult.

Another program highlight included new Local Leader volunteer positions that support recruitment efforts in a specific school district.  These well- networked individuals spread the word within their social and professional circles and recruited new Reading Buddies in rural communities.  Hats off to Local Leaders: Viki Draper in Rochester for the Rochester Primary School, Pamela Harrell in East Mason County for Pioneer Primary and Sara Steinberg in Yelm for Fort Stevens Elementary.  Chief Nielson of the Centralia Police Department in Lewis County recruited team members from his staff to serve as Reading Buddies in the Centralia School District Elementary schools as well.

WA Reading Corps mission is to support literacy and part of member’s role is to recruit community volunteers to help with the effort.  The United Way Reading Buddy program teamed up with WA Reading Corps to join efforts in the North Thurston School District, Olympia School District and Belfair School District to promote the importance of literacy, recruit community volunteers and increase Reading Buddy volunteer engagement efforts at the schools where they serve.

The United Way Reading Buddy Program provided Literacy Training to program volunteers, led by retired Reading Specialist, Mary Morris.  Reading Buddies learned about the five stages of literacy, and tips and tricks to make a greater impact when supporting their students. At the Year End Celebration, Linda Terry, owner of the STEP program lead a guided conversation so Reading Buddies can get to know each other and discuss strategies that worked when students really “clicked” with reading.

While the program experienced a successful year, there are still more schools on a waiting list and more students to reach. Volunteers are the most important component in our mission. If you love literacy, sharing just one hour a week is all it takes to change a child’s life for the better, ensuring a brighter future.

Orientation dates are set for September for a start date mid-October.  Join us, won’t you? Call Jennifer Thompson, 360-943-2773, ext. 121 or visit the United Way of Thurston County’s website and sign up TODAY!

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