Creating Opportunities Through Reading

by Kellie Cochrane

Verona mom and daughter

Nyekah Guest is the mother of 6 year old Nizjaylah Guest, a student enrolled in the Verona Early Grade Reading Pilot Program.

I’ve always been impressed by the great work being done through the Early Grade Reading Pilot Program at Verona Elementary School in Battle Creek.

But it’s much more powerful to actually see the excitement the children had for reading.

Last week Thursday, I joined several families for Verona’s Literacy Night. I saw first-hand that this program has achieved more than just better reading scores; it has brought hope to many families.

The numbers themselves tell a story of progress: Kindergarten students went from 5 percent reading at the proficient level or higher to 71 percent in a single year. Incredibly, more than half of the children were reading at an advanced level – higher than grade level.

That alone is impressive. Beyond that, I was inspired to see all of the families, many of whom had toddlers and other siblings in tow, who had taken time out of their night to come and support the program and their children.

Take six-year-old Nizjaylah Guest. She was never interested in reading before the program.  When her mother, Nyekah, would try an engage her with books, she would refuse.  Nyekah says the most winning component of the program for their family has been Razz Kids.  Razz Kids is the online counterpart to what the children are learning in school. Nyekah says it made reading more than “just a school thing” for Nizajaylah. “It’s in our home and it’s fun for her.”

Sharing in the Literacy Night experience made me realize that this program is about much more than helping children read proficiently; it’s about engaging parents, teachers and community members to set those kids on a path toward success. The children at Verona – and now Coburn, where the program is expanding – are being empowered to take charge of their education, which creates opportunities to change their lives for the better.