MONROE -- Reading is the basis for life skills.
"The fundamental building block is reading, and that's the way it's going to be," said Marquette Marshall, principal at Madison James Foster Elementary in Monroe.
But it's up to the community to ensure every child reaches their full potential. That's where "Read...Learn...Succeed" comes in.
"The goal of read learn succeed, is that all 3rd graders read on grade level," said Janet Durden, United Way of NELA president.
The United Way Of Northeast Louisiana started the reading program two years ago -- first on a pilot run. After a huge success, it came back for a second school year.
"86 percent of the children in Read, Learn Succeed improved their reading scores, so this year we've doubled the number of children," said Durden.
How It Works
This school year, there are 200 students and 400 volunteers taking part in the program, including myself.
On Thursdays, I visit Madison James Foster Elementary School in Monroe -- one of many schools across Ouachita, Lincoln, and Union Parishes taking part in the program so far. Each volunteer alternates with another volunteer to ensure the student has someone to read with for the program each week.
"We are working with a group of children that are reading slightly below grade level," said Durden.
All of the volunteers sit one-on-one with 2nd and 3rd graders to work on reading skills. The volunteers spend 30 minutes reading about two books of the child's choice.
"It's the building block, it's the cornerstone," said Marshall. "Volunteers coming here, make them know that somebody cares for them outside of these school walls, outside of this neighborhood."
Durden said this program helps students feel excitement about learning and to develop a desire to read and take on books.
"The third grade reading level is widely recognized as a key indicator of a child's future educational success," she said. "When it comes to reading skills, 2nd grade is really the best point of intervention."
Each month, children are even sent home with their very own book.
"They get the book, and they get to write their name, it's mine to keep you just see such a glow," said Durden. "And for many of the students in Read. Learn. Succeed, they don't have their own personal home library."
My reading buddy is 7-year old Charleycia James.
"I like the things that y'all help me do, and I learn better. And I learn to read in class when I go back," Charleycia said during an interview at school. "My mom thinks it's very good for me to read."
"Charleycia loves to read," said her mother, Angel Lincoln. "She struggled a bit with it last year, in her first grade year."
Her mom, angel, says Charleycia even passes the reading bug on to her little brother.
"He reads small things now, due to the fact that she'll come home and read to him, read his books to him," said Lincoln.
Lincoln said around her daughter's age, it's crucial -- between 7 and 10 years old much of their learning comes through reading, she said.
"At this age, instructions are a big part of their life. Reading instructions...as far as danger, with math, you have to read the instructions to solve the problem, with history, you have to read about these people. At this age, if they get a good concept and a good structure on how to read and to pronounce things properly, get a good comprehension of things, it really will be beneficial to them later on," she said.
"Due to different struggles that people have, all kids are not reading on grade level," said Marshall.
Lincoln spoke about the things she has observed while living in an area known for poverty.
"To be honest, coming from such a poverty stricken area and coming from an area where a lot of adults in maybe their early 20s, they have reading problems. So, I think by breaking that cycle now, and getting these children the basics and fundamentals that they need, it's going to help them out a lot. Because truth be told, I've actually seen where these children have helped some of their parents who struggle with reading."
Lincoln said she's happy to see the positive impact on a child's life.
"A lot of these kids believe that nobody cares about them, they've been ridiculed so hard for the area that they live in," said Lincoln. "Here's someone who knows nothing about them and they're showing this much interest in them."
Statistics show a student who can't read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school -- over 77% of public school fourth graders in Louisiana are unable to read at grade level, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, Children in Louisiana January 2013 fact sheet.
"I can't envision them dropping out, because they didn't get what they needed by the end of the third grade," said Durden "That's not acceptable for our community. Read. Learn. Succeed is one community effort to really address that issue, and eventually we'd like to see these children graduate from high school."
Volunteer Tommy Barker of BancorpSouth in West Monroe said he signed up to give back to the community.
"They just need a chance. You see them really struggle and to try and get the words, and they're wanting to do it, and they just need that little extra," he said.
He said he has watched his reading buddy blossom and improve so much from their first meeting.
"As the year went on and progressed, he's picking up more words and he's really ready to read and he's wanting to talk and just kind of come of out of his shell a little bit more," Barker said. "And if I'm able to give back a little bit to help in the child's life, it certainly feels like I'm contributing to society, contributing to the community."
How to Help
The United Way hopes to keep this program going for years to come.
"Continue to donate to the United Way, so they can keep programs like this to help our children be viable adults," said Marshall.
"My kids have a chance," said Lincoln. "Look at the things they can do...it will bring awareness to parents that with the reading fundamentals, there's unlimited opportunity in what your kids can do."
For more information on how you can donate to the United Way or on how to get involved, call 2-1-1 or their office number at (318) 325-3869. You can also visit www.unitedwaynela.org.
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