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A local elementary school student struggles with pronouncing her words when reading. Another has issues with comprehension. Others have processing and attention problems. But on Wednesday afternoons, these area children are getting the personalized attention they need when residents from The Highlands volunteer for private reading sessions.
“If you can help a child learn to love reading, it’s a blessing that makes a difference throughout their entire lifetime,” says Highlands resident Jean Gassert. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to develop this love when learning to read is a struggle.” These one-on-one tutoring sessions are part of Ready.
Set. READ! Berks County, a community-wide initiative that brings trained volunteers to area schools to help struggling children improve their reading levels. Its goal is to have 90% of third-graders in Berks County reading on grade level by 2023. According to Ready. Set. READ! early-grade reading success is a critical component of learning and an indicator of future success. Yet more than 25% of third-graders throughout the county are reading below grade level. That means that 1,365 local children – in urban, rural and suburban schools – are four times more likely to drop out of school and 13 times more likely to drop out if they also live in poverty. These are statistics Jean Gassert and nearly 30 other residents and employees are determined to change by volunteering for Ready. Set. READ! Highlands volunteers are either storytime readers or one-on-one tutors. The readers read stories to preschoolers to promote pre-literacy development in younger children. Tutors work with second-graders reinforcing what they learn in school and helping them develop strategies to improve reading skills.
“There are many reasons why some children find reading so frustrating,” says Joan Oxenrider, another Read. Set. READ! volunteer from The Highlands. “Our goal is to uncover some of the possible reasons, work on fixing them and to eventually turn that frustration into enthusiasm. When we do, there is no greater reward.” Director of Administrative Services Lorena Lazarchick is the Ready. Set. READ! Coordinator at The Highlands. She says that while the program is a wonderfully effective way to empower children, it also empowers – and enriches – The Highlands residents. “Any time we bring seniors and children together, fun and meaningful bonds are formed,” she says. “Both groups have so much to gain from each other … the result of these intergenerational programs is nothing short of magical. They give residents an important purpose and a sense of being loved and appreciated.” Highlands resident Harriet Baskin says she is grateful The Highlands is supportive of the residents’ interest in intergenerational programming. “Volunteering for programs like Ready. Set.
READ! helps us stay active and engaged, which I believe plays a very important role in overall well-being,” she says.