Since joining the Merced City School District last year, I’ve had the joy of seeing the many ways in which our community supports our students. We’re so fortunate to have residents who do everything from donate backpacks full of school supplies to share their expertise at our college and career fairs. And now a new partnership is helping our children to improve one of their most fundamental skills: reading.
Volunteers from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are visiting Gracey Elementary every Wednesday after school for a pilot program that began in September. They guide the children through a variety of literacy activities, including timed reading lessons that track the participants’ progress.
I stopped by the library to see the program in action recently and spoke with Principal Jose Munoz.
“Students have already shown improvement,” he said. “Most of the students started the program reading about 10 words a minute. Now they’re averaging 26-36 words per minute, which is a significant increase.”
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That’s exactly what Loretta Spence and her fellow members of the Women in NAACP Committee were hoping to achieve when they approached our district leaders earlier this year to offer their support.
“It makes me feel really good because it helps me to know that we’re making a difference,” she told me.
Administrators decided it would be best to focus on first graders because our district priorities call for students to be fluent in both reading and math by third grade. This program complements the work of our teachers and support staff by giving the students more time to learn and helping them gain confidence in their skills.
Six-year-old Shane Pulliam was exited to tell me about his improvement.
“It’s so good that when I come to the library my teacher lets us pick out books, and I know how to read them,” he explained.
The volunteers also are building positive relationships with the students in hopes of serving as mentors for years to come. Dr. Susan Walsh introduced each of the first graders at her table before telling me, “I’ve gotten to know the children here, and they are all great.”
And the feeling is mutual. First grader Abigail Diego-Gutierrez was smiling at Walsh as she replied, “I like to read with her.”
Along with Walsh and Spence, the other volunteers participating in the program are Tamara Cobb, Joyce Dale, Darryl Davis, Raul Delgadillo, Estella Dunn, and Virginia "Ginny" Riley. Munoz says he’s extremely thankful for their support and their heartfelt commitment to helping to our students succeed.
Sara Sandrik, an Emmy Award-winning former journalist, is the public information officer for the Merced City School District. She can be reached at email@example.com.