Many of Oklahoma’s children can’t read and that’s not okay. The research is clear that reading proficiently by the third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success, yet nationally about 80 percent of low-income children are not proficient readers by that time.
But what would happen if a few business leaders cared about this problem in a way that meant deploying aggressive tactics to change the odds? What if their companies decided to fight summer learning loss head-on by partnering with IMCI and local funders to enroll students at a community elementary school, grades 1-3, in an all-day summer reading camp? What if those companies decided it was a good idea for their employees to become reading coaches, investing an hour each week in helping those same children learn how to read? And what would happen if those very same reading coaches received coaching themselves, along with effective tools and technology to engage the hearts and minds of students? What would actually happen if—even in the most dire circumstances—children would learn to read?
Our philosophy is simple: Create life-changing opportunities for children to become avid, lifelong readers and, along the way, create systems to allow others to replicate your program and your success.
Edwards Elementary, located in northeast Oklahoma City and serving predominately low-income African American students, is a school where only 14 percent of third-grade students and zero percent of fourth-grade students met their mid-year reading benchmark goals in the 2010-2011 school year. It’s the perfect pilot site for the implementation of a comprehensive reading program.
It all began as a summer reading camp and has since expanded into a school-year weekly reading program where every student in the first, second and third grades (130 total) is paired with a reading coach. The summer program consists of a summer reading camp, a five-week, intensive and language-rich program utilizing the best practices identified by the Learning Association. IMCI partnered with Oklahoma-based companies SandRidge Energy and Public Strategies, and the Inasmuch Foundation to pilot the program with 75 students at Edwards Elementary in 2011, repeating in 2012 with 78 students and 128 in 2013. The camp is designed to enhance children’s experiences with reading and writing through content-rich instruction focused on the following core elements of reading.
To reinforce instruction, students participate in fun, hands-on activities that highlight lessons by rooting them in real-world contexts. Certified teachers and a classroom ratio of one adult per nine students ensure the Explorers receive the attention they need, and guest readers from the community daily provide positive role models for achieving reading excellence. Reading Explorers seeks to capture each child’s imagination as they are transported to Planet Koob (book spelled backward), where the robot inhabitants must read to breathe and stay alive. Characters such as E2R2 (Edwards Elementary Robot) and Sparky, the hero’s sidekick dog, help bring the theme to life.
In the school-year Reading Explorers program, improvements have been made for the 2012-13 school year. Reading coaches enter their sessions with children armed with a kit, including materials from Reading A-Z, a research-based literacy program, and art and writing supplies. They are led in their efforts by a full-time reading specialist, who prepares child-specific kits each week informed by discussions with teachers and ongoing progress monitoring. The reading specialist is present at each reading session, shadowing and coaching volunteers in how they interact with and teach their Reading Explorers. He or she also provides training for the volunteers at intermittent times throughout the school year and aligns the entire program with best practice standards. A special addition during the 2012-2013 school year were 30 iPads to aid students in their use of technology as a learning tool.
According to a 2010 Annie E. Casey Foundation study, “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of the Third Grade Matters,” reading proficiently by the end of third grade can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development. If children do not receive the five foundational essentials of reading instruction—the ability to manipulate sounds in words, the knowledge of relationships between written letters and sounds, understanding the meaning of words in reading and in written and spoken language, the ability to read rapidly, and the ability to gain meaning while reading—their deficits will remain through high school.
IMCI found significant reading gains at the conclusion of the summer camps. In 2012, these students not only escaped the customary two-month summer learning loss experienced by children in low-income neighborhoods, but they instead gained an average of more than two months of reading progress, a net gain of four months of growth. Through experiential education and project-based learning, the Explorers learned skills and made progress in other areas as well, developing and improving twenty-first-century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Additionally, IMCI formed partnerships with many of these students’ parents, being recognized by families as a true partner for student success.
Components of Effective Volunteer Tutoring Programs
According to an analysis by the United Way, volunteer tutoring programs have demonstrated effectiveness in the improvement of academic achievement when they are implemented with the following components, which are embedded in the Reading Explorers’ weekly reading program.
- Program supervision by a certified reading specialist
- Ongoing tutor training and evaluation
- Highly structured tutoring sessions
- Intensive and consistent tutoring
- Use of quality reading materials and manuals
- Ongoing assessment of students
- Coordination of tutoring with classroom instruction
- Emphasis on parent involvement
National Summer Learning Association Quality Standards
The Association provides research-based quality program standards in the areas of program purpose, finance and sustainability, planning, staff, partnerships and points of service, to guide professional development and training services for summer programs. These standards have provided an important framework for the the development of Reading Explorers.
Reading Explorers Experience
Built on a solid research foundation and administered in creative and compelling ways, Reading Explorers utilizes best practice strategies to inspire and equip children to become life-long readers by helping them to reach the critical benchmark of “reading proficiently by the end of third grade!”
It’s My Community Initiative is a member of the OKC Metro Literacy Coalition. The mission of the Coalition is to lead a collaboration of literacy providers and supporters to strengthen services and present a united voice in Metropolitan Oklahoma City.