Friday, April 13, 2001

Reading program draws support

Volunteers help children improve important skills

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — Twice a week, West Chester Realtor Amy Tucker comes to Independence Elementary School as a volunteer mentor to help children improve their reading skills.

        She has no children, but it is her way to contribute something to the community where she lives and works. The reading program, known as HOSTS — Help One Student to Succeed — is also the kind of program U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, says President Bush wants to fund in his education reform package. But along with increased spending would have to come increased results.

        “The administration has spent $80 billion over the last 10 years with no results,” Mr. Boehner said Wednesday while observing the HOSTS program. “We're going to have to have more results. There's more money, more flexibility, but we're going to demand results.”

Outside help

        Independence's program began 13 months ago and is funded through an Ohio Reads grant. Volunteer mentors work one-on-one with children who are behind in their reading. Children work with a mentor 30 minutes a day, four days a week. This year there are 60 mentors and 50 students in the program, said reading specialist Melissa Pence.

        “We've seen phenomenal growth,” Ms. Pence said of the program. “In four months' time we've seen some kids grow one year” in their reading scores.

        Tommy Barker, 8, likes coming to see Ms. Tucker or the other mentors because they helped him win a bet — and $20 — at home against his sister. The challenge was who could get to the 20th test in the reading program first.

        ""I like reading more, especially animal books,” the third-grader said.

        “I love it,” Ms. Tucker said of her work. “Sometimes I think I get more (out of it) than them.”

Making up for lost time

        The 30-year-old HOSTS program has data to show it works, said Hayward Richardson, the firm's national development director, who was at Independence with Mr. Boehner.

        “If you operate the program the way it's designed, you're going to get results,” Mr. Richardson said.

        On average, students gain two years of academic improvement for each year they are in HOSTS, Mr. Richardson said. Key to the results are committed, trained volunteer mentors.

Catching problems early

        Each child in the Independence program has a color-coded folder that corresponds to books for his reading level. Individualized lessons geared to strengthen each child's weak areas are in the folders the mentors use.

        “Early reading units like these are critical if we're going to catch kids early,” Mr. Boehner said.


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