Tutors have powerful impact creating young readers

Saquaya Denoto’s daughter entered kindergarten at Memminger Elementary School last year knowing only about half of the alphabet. Thanks to a dedicated Reading Partners tutor, Saquaya (named after her mom) has come a long way.

On a summertime trip to the library, Saquaya picked out a book and was reading, Denoto said. “I was really proud of her.”

Reading Partners, a Trident United Way grant recipient, places volunteers in low-income schools to help young students master basic reading skills. Reading Partner’s work aligns well with Trident United Way’s Kindergarten Readiness Network, a community collaboration aimed at improving academic and developmental outcomes for children entering school. The network is comprised of schools, businesses, community organizations, parents and volunteers -- all of whom share a desire to see children prepared to enter kindergarten.

Denoto can’t say enough about the benefits of Reading Partners, which now has helped two of her four children.

“All my kids love to read,” she said. “All my kids are reading. They struggled at first, but they got it.”

The research is clear on the importance of early reading skills. Children who aren’t reading at grade level by third grade face an uphill battle as they advance in school. The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee reported that in fall 2018, fewer than half the children starting kindergarten in the Tri-County area were ready to start school. Across the state, only 37% of children are ready for kindergarten.

Those kinds of statistics motivated Stephen Hanson to become a Reading Partners volunteer two years ago. He worked one-on-one last year with Saquaya, helping her learn the alphabet and then sound out letters and eventually words.

Saquaya’s progress was inspiring, Hanson said. She was able to progress quickly to the next level of reading lessons.

To see that lightbulb go off in children’s heads and to see where they started at the beginning of the year and the progress they made was impactful, he added. “Being able to read is a game changer for these students.”

“Steve did a good job of keeping Saquaya engaged and keeping it fun,” said Anastasia Bodea Crisan, site coordinator. “That’s a great quality for tutors to be able to work with students in a way they can learn.”

Without those strong literacy skills, these children will struggle in school and beyond. Students who cannot read by third grade are less likely to graduate from high school.

Hanson said, “If kids aren’t getting the basics of education, you can’t expect them to excel and go on.”

Photo credits: Lynn Michell Lind, Town & County Photography for Help Me Grow SC