Back to School Means Time to Invest in Our Students

by Kellie Cochrane

It seems like everyone is getting in the back-to-school spirit!  As a recent college grad, it feels a little surreal not to be agonizing over the costs of my books and comparing class schedules with friends.   While I’m still adjusting to my new “alumna” status, back-to-school time as a new United Way employee brings its own excitement: a chance to see some of our incredible education initiatives in full swing!

Verona Elementary School in Battle Creek has really been an inspiration to our region.  In 2011, United Way began working with the school to create a program that would help boost third grade reading levels.  Why third grade?  This third year in elementary school marks an important transition for students: the switch between learning to read and reading to learn.  Research shows that students who lack reading proficiency in third grade are more likely to fall behind and fail to graduate.  In 2011, Verona Elementary, the Calhoun Intermediate School District and United Way formed the Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement Pilot Project.

This program provided teachers with professional development training, volunteer reading buddies for the students, support and engagement for at home activities, protection against the “summer slide” and community connections for additional resources.  The payoff has been extraordinary: Kindergarten students went from 5 percent reading at the proficient level or higher at the end of the 2011 school year to 71 percent at proficient or higher at the end of the 2012 school year. Half of the students were reading at an advanced level above their normal grade level.

Results like this truly spark change.  Earlier this month, SNAP Inc. Preschool announced they will be featuring a similar program and are looking for volunteers.  Think of what a difference being a reading buddy can make for these students.  If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer for the Verona Project, contact Kim Lehman   Just 30 minutes of your time spent reading to a child helps create a change our whole community can see.