Read Indeed!

Volunteers in Need

UnitedWay WEB

by United Way of the Lowcountry, Inc.

“Every day I see volunteers go to the classrooms and see students eagerly awaiting their turn to work with the volunteer,” said Karen Cauller, Literacy Coach at Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts. “I wish everyone could see the excitement when students see new books in their folders.”

Making reading exciting is part of what makes the United Way of the Lowcountry’s Read Indeed! Program (formerly Early Grade Reading) so successful. It’s also what keeps more than 200 volunteer tutors coming back.

Now entering its fourth year as a supplemental program within Beaufort and Jasper County schools, the Read Indeed! Program has been successful in helping students increase their reading test scores each year. 

In the 2014-2015 school year, 99 percent of the 365 students enrolled in the program in six Beaufort County schools increased their MAP test scores in reading. In that same time frame, 96 percent of the 96 students enrolled in the program in Jasper County schools increased their IStation test scores in reading. Both MAP and IStation are state-approved standardized tests. Including the 180 pre-K students and 34 students who did not finish the school year in the district, a total of 675 students were reached through the Read Indeed! Program last year. 

“The scores are indicative of the success of this program in its third full year, and we are thrilled with the hard work put in by our volunteers and students,” said Tina Gentry, United Way of the Lowcountry President and CEO. 

While success rates for students enrolled in the Read Indeed! Program have never been lower than 95 percent for either school district, it has only reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many children can be helped.

“The need is there for even more students to benefit from our program,” said Bethany Marcinkowski, Director of Education Impact for United Way of the Lowcountry. “Our statistics prove the program works, but we can only continue to reach students who need our help by adding volunteers.”

On average, more than 200 volunteers spend an hour each week tutoring over 400 children, meaning most tutors have at least two students with whom they work. An AmeriCorps grant received in 2013, which renewed for the past two years, adds 20 AmeriCorps members serving as tutors in the program, as well. 

Together, volunteers and members serve students at St. Helena Elementary, Shanklin Elementary, Hilton Head Creative Arts Elementary, Pritchardville Elementary, Red Cedar Elementary, Hilton Head Early Childhood Center, Hardeeville Elementary and Ridgeland Elementary.

LeNolon Edge, a tutor in Jasper, has found “great joy” on a personal level from the tutoring program. “Just to know that I am able to spend some invaluable one-on-one time with my students, while helping them develop their skills and increase their confidence and competence, is extremely rewarding,” he said.

Likewise, tutor and AmeriCorps member Emily Starry has found that one-on-one time has benefits for students above and beyond becoming better readers. When one of her students jumped three reading levels over the course of a couple of months, Emily wondered if the time was right for the student to move out of the program. 

“Both the teacher and the literacy coach had decided that the student would stay with me for the time being,” she said. “He has a less than ideal home life, with one parent in prison and the other not in the picture. He is disruptive and violent in class and will not stay on task in group activities, etc. I was stunned because with me he is eager, polite and asks to have more time to read!”

Tutors can, indeed, make a lifetime of impact on a student with just minutes spent each week helping them become better readers. The students’ faces light up at the sight of these volunteers, and most of the time, that translates into better test scores and improved confidence by the end of the school year. 

To see the phenomenon for yourself by becoming a volunteer tutor or AmeriCorps member, contact Bethany Marcinkowski in the Bluffton United Way office at 843-837-2000 or Lesley Holladay at 843-982-3040 in the Beaufort office. 

Through volunteering as a tutor, the life you change may be your own.

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