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School touts benefit of reading program: John Gill’s Reading Partners targets achievement gap
April 03, 2014, 05:00 AM By Angela Swartz Daily Journal

Mary Brant
A tutor works with a student at Redwood City’s John Gill Elementary School in the Reading Partners program.

For students struggling with reading, John Gill Elementary School’s Reading Partners program has helped boost not only students’ reading levels, but their confidence as well.

Diana Martin, site coordinator for the Redwood City school’s program, brought the nonprofit to John Gill through AmeriCorps in August 2012 and has helped pair students with individual volunteer tutors. It aims to close the reading achievement gap. Teachers refer students they think need support and there are currently 47 student enrolled. Selected students are a year to two and half years behind the expected reading grade level.

“The one-on-one volunteer to student relationship — it’s amazing to watch those relationships develop,” Martin said. “A student will be shy and not say a word, then they’re having conversations with their tutors. It changes a student.”

Reading Partners was founded in 1999 by three community leaders committed to improving children’s literacy and life opportunities. Mary Wright Shaw, Molly McCrory and Jean Bacigalupi launched a one-on-one tutoring program to help children with the poorest reading skills at Belle Haven Community School in Menlo Park.

The program is vital across many districts as, according to Reading Partners data from 2013, just 34 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders in public school could read proficiently. According to the data, children who cannot read proficiently by the fourth-grade are four times less likely to graduate on time — hindering their chances to live a happy, healthy, productive life. More stunning, one in three students was shown to be reading below basic proficiency — functionally illiterate. For students from low-income families, the situation is even more dire — 82 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunches cannot read with proficiency.

Volunteers go through one training session. The structured curriculum is set by Reading Partners and there are five separate reading levels. There’s a foundation level, followed by skills such as making inferences, learning cause and effect and determining themes. The tutor reads to the student during the 45-minute session — each student does two sessions a week during or after school — and asks inferential questions to students so they think about what they’re readings. Students read articles, books and short stories with the tutors.

Tutor Matt Denecour, a former substitute teacher, was drawn to the program after he missed working with children, noting one doesn’t have to be a former teacher to feel like they can be successful as a tutor. Tutors are high school and college students, retired and other professionals.

“I get the opportunity to work with the kids,” he said. “I like the way the program is set up. They make it very easy to be a tutor because of the way they have all the lessons broken down and planned out. The staff is fantastic; it’s pretty amazing considering all of them are young and just out of college.

The kids become more confident readers, Denecour said.

“A little guy I had last year, at the end of year he was at grade level [for reading],” he said.

The school’s principal said it’s made a great difference to the school and he loves the program that allows kids to have somebody in their corner to work with them.

“One of the major benefits from my point of view is that each of these kids has an adult who cares about him or her who sees them every week,” said Principal Josh Griffith. “It helps having an older advocate. … It’s shown great benefits socially, emotionally and academically. … Diana Martin is one of the most competent professionals I’ve worked with.”

For more on the overall program visit

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105



Tags: reading, students, program, student, school, tutors,

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