Some of the biggest names in Taylor are involved in a campaign promoting early childhood reading literacy. Shouldn’t you think about joining them?
Executive Director Lori Hill-Sanders of the Taylor Reading Corps announced that the non-profit organization recently completed the successful training of 15 new adult reading volunteers. Among those being trained were Taylor Police Chief Mary Sclabassi and Taylor School District Chief Financial Officer Shawn Stirling.
But the recognizable names don’t end with just those two people. Superintendent of Schools Diane Allen was a charter member of the TRC Board of Directors, and the reading campaign is the brainchild of 23rd District Court Judge Geno Salomone. Board of Education members Debbie Stellini and Linda Newsome are on the TRC board, as is City Councilman Rick Sollars.
Those are just a few of the big names involved so far – and the list is growing by the day. Before this current batch of reading mentors were trained, the TRC had approximately 200 adults mentoring about 250 preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students. PNC Bank, thanks to a “Growing Up Great” initiative grant from the PNC Foundation, is funding and mentoring the preschool-level children in the Taylor School District, behind to the efforts of PNC Bank Regional President Rick DeVore and PNC Senior Vice President and Regional Manager Ronnie Jacek Ruelle.
DeVore is a huge backer of literacy initiatives and sits on the TRC Capitol Campaign Committee with McKinley Properties CEO Albert Berriz and U.S. Rep. John Dingell. Ruelle has coordinated and supported the PNC’s efforts at the preschool level.
With all of these people involved, you might be wondering where you could fit in. And that’s an easy question to answer.
This fall, the TRC expands into the second grade. The reading corps started two years ago by focusing on just kindergarten students who were non-proficient in reading skills. Last year, the corps expanded into the preschool and first grade with great success. This year, right on schedule, it plans to add second-grade students to its program before completely “opening the reading umbrella” the following year, when it makes it final expansion that will include third graders.
The reality is that the reading corps can gain valuable partners and monetary donations, but it is the core volunteers that make its engine hum. Each volunteer translates to at least one more child being able to enter the program. Without volunteers, the program stalls.
With the expansion into the second grade, the program needs many more volunteers (100 new volunteers is not out of the question). Volunteering is simple – the TRC will supply the training, materials and scheduling. All the adult has to do is to complete an easy training session and devote one-half hour weekly reading to their student at his or her school. Volunteers already in the program opening discuss what a tremendous value it brings not only to the students, but also to their own lives. They enjoy the process and take note of every improvement in their child’s learning. Without a doubt, the TRC program is a two-way street.
The importance of reading proficiency through the third-grade level is well documented across the country. In fact, according to a 2010 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 24 percent of below basic readers at the end of the third grade drop out or fail to finish high school on time; on the other hand, only 9 percent of students with basic reading skills at the end of that grade level drop out or fail to finish high school on time.
Taylor is hardly immune to these problems. In 2011, non-proficient readers at the end of the third grade hovered between the 50th and 60th percentiles. While non-proficient readers in that survey fell to the 40th percentile in eighth grade, the resulting reading scores on the 2011 Michigan Merit Exam for high school juniors showed that over 50 percent attending Kennedy and Truman high schools remained non-proficient in reading – the number was 80 percent at the Titan Alternative High School. At that time, Taylor had overall graduation rate of nearly 70 percent.
Judge Salomone viewed the illiteracy problem from a different angle. “There is a direct relationship between a person’s lack of education and his or her probability of becoming a defendant in court,” he said when he began the TRC campaign. Salomone’s goal was to eventually have all third-grade students in the district proficient in reading, which would be a huge step toward ensuring that anyone graduating from a Taylor high school actually has the ability to perform at a 12th grade level.
The results for those left behind in the reading race can be horrible. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over 75 percent of inmates in American prisons could not read above the fourth-grade level in 2010. This is more than an school problem. It is a quality of life issue.
Salomone was insistent that the reading corps had an independent measuring stick in place to track its progress. As a result, the TRC has worked out a partnership with Wayne State University, where assistant professor of reading, language and literature, Kate Roberts, evaluates the program each year. Roberts holds a bachelor’s degree from Butler University, a master’s from Indiana and a doctoral from MSU. She is a former kindergarten teacher and currently teaches preservice and graduate-level courses in literacy education.
Children in the reading corps are tested before and after they enter the program each year. Those scores are not only compared against each other, but also to the non-TRC scores of their classroom peers.
Since the reading corps started its mentoring program late two years ago, those scores were incomplete. However, WSU’s Roberts did note that TRC-mentored children were closing the gap with their peers. Last year’s data is currently being evaluated by Roberts and will be released when it is completed.
To volunteer or donate to the Taylor Reading Corps, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 1-313-769-6730. Anyone interested in the program can also click on the Web site at www.TaylorReadingCorps.org, or write to the TRC, PO Box 276, Taylor, MI, 48180. The TRC is open during regular business hours Mondays through Fridays in the old U.S. Army recruiting storefront office at 22755 Wick, inside the Sax Pharmacy plaza (Wick Road at Pardee).
To go directly to the TRC volunteer registration page, click here.