“We need at least 75 volunteers to participate in the schools. Ideally, each volunteer will work individually with three students, all from the same classroom,” explained Sherry Bovey, a VISTA employee working with the City as a volunteer recruitment and management systems designer. In addition to Bovey, Ethan Francois, a graduate of Louisiana College with a degree in business but a passion for literacy, also works with the program.
“When you look at test results, literacy levels haven’t improved much locally in the past 10 years,” notes Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall. “Our teachers are doing a wonderful job, but there are limits to what they can do in the time they have with the children. And families don’t always have the time or resources to provide the support needed at home. Our goal with this program is to provide extra support from the community to get at-risk students the help they need to get up to the appropriate reading level.”
Bovey, a certified teacher with a history of working with gifted students and working as a substitute teacher locally, said the sessions will be conducted in-person at participating elementary schools and last about 10 minutes per student. “The schools tried doing virtual sessions due to COVID, but they were not as effective,” Bovey said, adding face masks and social distancing will be used and the one-on-one sessions will be limited to 10 minutes to minimize exposure risk. She estimates a volunteer seeing three children would typically spend about 45 minutes at the school per training day. Ideally, volunteers would see students two to three times each week.
The program, which targets children in grades K through 3, will have a reading intervention or set of activities that are decided upon by each participating school, Bovey said. “We are targeting students in grades K-3 because if a child is not on reading level by the end of the third grade they are four times more likely not to graduate, so this has a significant impact on the life they will lead,” she said.
In addition to the in-person work at schools, Bovey said the program will provide tips for parents and caregivers to use at home. “We encourage parents to read to children, to have the child read out loud and other things. There are a total of 16 tips, with some being things to do daily and some weekly,” she said.
Bovey said she is hoping to get volunteers from across the city representing as much diversity as possible. “Reading is one of those things that doesn’t have respect for class,” she said. “You can have children struggling to read even in homes with lots of books.”
Applicants do not need prior teaching experience and all training materials will be provided. “I think anyone interested in helping children will find this to be a very rewarding program,” she said.
Applicants will go through an interview process and must pass a fingerprint/background check conducted by the Rapides Parish School Board and complete a volunteer application with the school at which they work with students. Once approved, the volunteers will attend an orientation session and then training for the student sessions.
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