Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TOP STORY >> District pushes reading

Leader staff writer

It’s hard to miss the buzz around Jacksonville—it’s not just the start of a new school year, but Monday was the first day of a new school district.

Jacksonville City Council Alderman Tara L. Smith says the excitement about the opening of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is obvious wherever she goes.

“It’s just a different feeling, and I can feel this community coming together in a new way,” she says.

But Smith says the district “desperately” needs AR Kids Read volunteers.

“I’m encouraging people to sign up for the program,” she says.

Smith’s more than just talk. For the past two years, she’s served as an AR Kids Read volunteer at Tolleson and Pinewood elementary schools, working with third grade students.

Each year, she worked with two students for 30 minutes once a week, and she’s signing up for a third year.

“We mostly read for fun,” she says. Most of the time, the student selects a book from the school’s library and reads it out loud to Smith, but occasionally she will help the student with spelling words or on math problems, if requested by the teacher.

Smith says, “I love to do this…When they see me coming, their little eyes light up and it’s so rewarding.”

Phyllis Stewart, Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s chief of staff, says the district staff is talking with AR Kids Read and looking forward to a partnership with the program.

Matthew DeSalvo, the program’s community relations director says the AR Kids Read program “recruits, trains, and mobilizes reading tutors from various sectors of the community to work with struggling readers in first, second and third grades.”

Stewart says, “The importance of reading in education is foundational, and the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District recognizes that sometimes our students need additional help. We have employed a reading specialist for each of our six elementary schools.”

She also believes that volunteers can provide students with additional reading practice that many need.

“It’s vital to our students’ development, especially those who are not at grade-level reading. Just having that mentor, that adult, helps them feel important to school, their family and their community,” Stewart says about the program.

DeSalvo says, “As Jacksonville transitions to a brand new school district, the program is part of their new reading initiative.”

DeSalvo says “AR Kids Read is entering its fourth full year serving Pulaski County elementary schools,” and during this time, it has experienced tremendous growth.

In early 2012, the program began in eight schools and recruited tutors from 13 partner organizations. Now, it works with 48 schools around the state and has more than 75 partner organizations.

“AR Kids Read is a great way to bridge the gap between the community and the schools, and allows community members to serve students who need help improving their reading skills,” DeSalvo says.

Smith says, “These students are the future leaders of our community, and we need to start them out on the right foot.”

In addition, she says more than just taking pride in the new Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, she encourages people to get involved in AR Kids Read.

Smith says, “It’s a meaningful way to support the district and rally around its students.

Tutoring dates and times will be posted on the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District website Aug. 31, and anyone interested in volunteering for AR Kids Read can sign up then.