United Way of Southeast Missouri recently acquired a grant from the DeltaCorps Regional Authority for the new program Read to Excel, an extension of the Read to Succeed Program in Cape Girardeau Public Schools. KRCU’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Elizabeth Shelton, the Executive Director of United Way of Southeast Missouri about it.
Lewis-Thompson: Before we get into the Read to Excel program, I want to talk a little about its predecessor, the Read to Succeed program, which came about in 2011. For those that aren’t aware of it, what is this program and how does it work?
Shelton: Read to Succeed is actually modeled after a program that was started in New York and was brought back here and was tried first in Blanchard Elementary for one year, and then thanks to AmeriCorps funding, United Way was able to expand that into all of the Cape Girardeau Elementary schools in 2012. And it's simply a reading program that is volunteer driven that encourages kindergartners and first graders along the path of reading. It's not designed for remedial readers or children who are struggling with reading. It's designed for average readers, who might need just a little bit of encouragement and assistance to make sure that they are excited about and mastering this critical skill.
Lewis-Thompson: It’s been 6 years since the “Read to Succeed” program launched in Cape Girardeau. How effective has it been?
Shelton: We have been so pleased with this program. First, we get a lot of comments from parents who are telling us just what kind of progress they have seen their child make thanks to Read to Succeed. And we have them tell us that years later they are now avid readers and they really give a lot of credit to this program and to the volunteers who make it happen. This year we finally have some data actually that is helping. We've been collecting data all along, but it's very hard to test a kindergartner on where they are in their reading skills early on. So the data is not always black and white for us. But all of the children do progress and we are able to chart that progression. But this year when we were applying for this grant for the Read to Excel program, we pulled together data and we realized that the students who are the strongest readers now in the Cape Girardeau Public Schools are the students who benefited from Read to Succeed when it rolled out in 2012 in all of the elementary schools. And they have the highest reading proficiency rates of any of their cohorts.
Lewis-Thompson: What is the Read to Excel program and how does it differ from Read to Succeed?
Shelton: Well we were asked by a number of the parents and teachers and principals in the schools where we're going if we could expand Read to Succeed, which really just focuses on those early readers in kindergarten and first grade. And we did not have the funding to be able to do that. Not to mention the volunteer base. Because we are very dependent on our wonderful volunteers who go into the schools for Read to Succeed. So we saw this opportunity through DeltaCorps, which is a division of AmeriCorps. And it worked in our favor that Read to Succeed was able to go into all of the elementary schools in 2012, because of an AmeriCorps grant. So we already had a proven track record. And for those who aren't familiar with AmeriCorps, it's like a domestic Peace Corps. And DeltaCorps is just focused on the Delta corridor. So we saw that we could apply for this, but unlike the Read to Succeed grant, what we're getting is not funding. We are getting two people to come help launch this program, who will be putting in full-time hours. They are not United Way employees and they are not being paid out of our budget...So Read to Excel will expand this reading program into grades 2-6. So we will still have someone going into the elementary schools. And then we will also have someone going into Central Middle School for 5th and 6th grades to help those students, but unlike Read to Succeed this program is designed to help the struggling reader. We have too many students who are not reading at grade level that really need some help. And we're excited that we're going to be able to try this for this year thanks to this DeltaCorps grant.
Lewis-Thompson: Will certain students be chosen from specific classrooms if teachers recommend that they might have struggles with reading or is it something that parents would have to do?
Shelton: Like Read to Succeed our teachers will be identifying the students that they believe will perform best in this program and need it the most. So with Read to Succeed we do have some testing that we're able to use. And we can use some of those test scores to also help identify students, and that may be applied for Read to Excel but we also are like I said very dependent on input from the teachers to be able to tell us that these students really need some extra help.
The Read to Excel program is expected to start next school year.
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