As standardized test scores for some Waco Independent School District campuses continued to slip in 2014, local faith-based community leaders hope to intervene by adding more volunteers to read with elementary students in the upcoming school year.
Members of Antioch Community Church, First United Methodist Church of Waco, Calvary Baptist Church, Acts Church and others volunteered as mentors in Waco elementary schools to assist students who struggle to read.
Antioch’s Book Club Program director Stephanie Korteweg said the program focuses on “bubble students” or students on the cusp of failing, but who could improve with additional attention teachers normally can’t provide during class time.
Antioch started the program in 2012 and, although the mentors focus on students of testing age — primarily third through fifth grades — the purpose of the book clubs is more than academic, Korteweg said.
“Education is an incredibly complex issue. What we can do is be consistent in the life of student. Give them some type of support, not only for the student but also for the teachers. And let them know and the school know: ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re showing up. We want to help out and this is how we know that we can,’ ” she said.
The total program grew from two to six campuses and nearly doubled its number of mentors to 231 in the 2013 school year. J.H. Hines Elementary, Bell’s Hill PDS Elementary School, Dean Highland Elementary and West Avenue Elementary are some of the campuses receiving mentors, with close to 700 students involved.
“After seeing kids in a consistent relationship with a positive role model, I have seen the impact,” Korteweg said. “What positive role models — I would even say believers (in Jesus Christ) — can offer is something more than academics. It’s a person caring about a kid.”
Volunteers or “mentors” meet with one to three students once a week for 30 minutes and read through a book. Many mentors have developed their own system and go over vocabulary words or phonetics to focus on what the student struggles with most, Korteweg said.
Students were assigned mentors after the first six weeks of school when teachers could evaluate the level of need in their classrooms, said Principal Lisa Cain of Hillcrest Professional Development School.
Cain said 29 mentors worked with 45 students at Hillcrest during the 2013-14 school year, and she hopes the program grows this upcoming year.
“Kids love it. The kids are very excited when it’s their day to see their reading buddy,” Cain said.
West Avenue Principal James Alexander requested mentors for his younger students, kindergarten through second grades. He said he saw the state testing scores in third-grade reading rise from 55 percent of the campus passing in 2012-13 to 59 percent of the campus passing in 2013-14.
Hillcrest’s overall reading scores went down in the state-mandated testing, from 92 percent to 86, but 32 of the 45 students with mentors passed.
Cain said she would like the students who had mentors this year to stay with the same volunteers through the next grade to build on the work they accomplished in 2013-14.
“It was really good. It was a good program and it was a good way to get a local church involved in the schools. It got kids excited about reading,” she said.
Korteweg plans to recruit more churches to participate this year and hopes to double the number of campuses with reading mentors.
“No student learns without relationships. The biggest thing is that we’re not necessarily teaching, but what we are there to do is encourage and help,” Korteweg said.