OUR County - September 2011
If kids can’t read, they can’t succeed…this is the motto for Schools of Hope, an educational initiative that was launched last year by United Way of the Wine Country in partnership with the Volunteer Center.
Sonoma County has a burgeoning problem which will fuel the existing achievement gap of our Latino population if it is not addressed, and head on. Statistics show that only 46% of our 3rd grade students read at grade level…and of the 54% who do not, research shows that 90% never will achieve proficiency. The statistics for English learners are even more concerning, with only a 21% reading at grade level. As to the gap, 75% of Latino students are not at grade level, compared to 37% of Caucasian/White students…and these numbers are in line with percentages based on economic status.
These are stark statistics which have prompted local organizations such as Community Action Partnership, United Way, the Volunteer Center, County of Sonoma, Sonoma County Office of Education, a graduate class from California College of Arts Social Ventures program in partnership with the Press Democrat, and other community organizations and educators to focus on the best approach to solving this critical educational and social problem.
Education is the cornerstone of individual and community success. It is essential for finding and keeping a job with a livable wage and health benefits. The ability to read is a powerful predictor of later academic achievement and success in life. Research shows that a student who is not at least moderately successful in reading by the end of third grade is unlikely to graduate high school. Lack of reading success and subsequent school failure has been identified as a key driver of our community’s escalating criminal justice costs.
Enter Schools of Hope…
A major community initiative that launched during the 2010-2011 school year, Schools of Hope helps children build the critical reading skills needed to succeed in school and life. United Way is leading a coordinated effort to close the reading achievement gap throughout California's North Coast by partnering with the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, school districts, offices of education, principals, non-profit organizations, teachers, parents, literacy experts, businesses and individual donors.
Schools of Hope engages community volunteers with a goal of raising third grade reading proficiency to at least 90% by 2020.
One-on-one tutoring is the centerpiece of the strategy to increase literacy. Tutor training is provided by volunteers based on a common training curriculum developed by local reading specialists and primary grade teachers. In addition, the Schools of Hope initiative aims to increase family engagement to take learning beyond the classroom. We know each educational environment is unique, therefore, we are working closely with school districts, principals, teachers and parents to ensure Schools of Hope works with, and enriches, our school district's existing K-12 curriculum.
In its first year, Schools of Hope was launched in six Sonoma County elementary schools. More than 260 community volunteers were recruited, trained and placed at schools to provide at least 30 minutes weekly one-on-one tutoring to kindergarten through second grade students. At the end of the year, teachers reported that 100% of tutored students showed improvement in reading and in their attitude toward reading. Mid-year assessments also showed a 31% increase in the number of tutored students reading at grade level after 12 weeks or less of tutoring.
In Sonoma County the program will expand to serve second grade students at all current schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Three new elementary schools will be added, raising the total need to 400 volunteer tutors.
I volunteered with Schools of Hope at Roseland Elementary last year. Working with my student and watching her improve week by week was an incredibly rewarding experience. I hope that you will consider joining the volunteer team for the upcoming school year. If interested in making a difference with Schools of Hope, contact Barbara Fisher at 573-3399 x122 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about upcoming orientation sessions and trainings. I can’t wait to get back into the classroom again this school year. I hope to see you there!