Achieving literacy by the third grade is a significant milestone for children, parents and educators. It’s also one of the biggest problems faced by area school districts.
Research shows that from kindergarten to third grade, a child is actively gaining skills to learn how to read. Children who are behind grade level at the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school.
Education Connection, an active service under the non-profit umbrella of Christ Together Greater Austin, is now in its ninth year of combating third grade illiteracy by pairing volunteers with children across 11 area school districts including Leander ISD, Round Rock ISD and Lago Vista ISD, to help elementary school students improve reading skills.
Other participating districts include Austin ISD, Georgetown ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Liberty Hill ISD.
“I love making new connections with different districts,” said Amy Hagen, the group’s executive director. “In the three years I have been involved, we went from three districts to eleven districts so it’s been really great to see that amount of growth. I love doing trainings for our volunteers themselves. It’s so fun to see the enthusiasm that they have in order to give and serve and simply read with the students. I get to hear their stories when they come back from reading with the kids and I can tell they love working together.”
Education Connection recruits and trains background-checked volunteers to come into schools during their daily hours to help children develop skills in language, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, reasoning and sentence structure and cohesion. Volunteers dedicate 30 minutes weekly and serve from October through May, working with two students at a time to accomplish assigned classroom and library reading or a book that a child wants to read by is having difficulty with.
“We’re actively trying to figure out how we can best serve each school,” said Hagen. “It’s really important for our literacy partners as well as the school districts to work together to find the best fit for their students and their schools. We are providing that extra reading support.”
For the 2018-19 school year, Education Connection has a goal of recruiting 1,200 volunteers to serve 2,400 students. Over its nine years of service, the organization has connected with 7,878 students and trained 3,741 volunteers.
“Our work is to serve and to underscore the amazing work that is happening in each of these classrooms,” Hagen said. “We want to support these teachers and administrations, we’re just there to offer more opportunities for children to read with an adult and highlight the concepts they’re learning in the classroom. It’s very simple. That’s what volunteers love is that simplicity. For the kids to be able to slow down and have that adult-to-student one-on-one attention is so powerful.”
Registration to become a volunteer is open until mid-October. To become involved as a volunteer with Education Connection or to learn more about the organization, visit education-connection.org or call 512-813-5918.