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Public and Private Programs Can Help Students Improve Reading Skills

In this op-ed, the chairman of the board of Everybody Win! Atlanta applauds Gov. Deal for focusing on the importance of early intervention for building reading skills and a life-long love of reading.

By Mary Jo Peed

In his recent State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal announced his goal of increasing the percentage of children reading at grade level by the third grade. He detailed a plan to implement a statewide reading mentors program and will seek $1.6 million from next year’s budget, saying, “When we fail to invest in our youngest students, we are forced to spend money on remediation for the rest of their academic careers.”

At Everybody Wins! Atlanta (www.everybodywinsatlanta.org), we applaud Gov. Deal for focusing on the importance of early intervention for building reading skills and a life-long love of reading. It’s what our volunteer mentors have been doing here in metro Atlanta for the past 14 years. Our organization is a local affiliate of a national non-profit that pairs elementary school students at risk for academic failure with mentors who spend one-on-one time reading with them for one hour each week for an entire school year.

The need for reading improvement in our state is great. When fourth graders were compared nationally for proficient reading performance in 2009, Georgia ranked third from last according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). As local students continue to fall behind their national peers in reading, the “achievement gap” grows. Critics of the Governor’s plan have said that the $1.6 million targeted is inadequate to make a substantial difference. It will be up to volunteer programs like Everybody Wins! Atlanta and other organizations to help bridge the gap, and provide additional reading assistance at little or no cost to the school systems.

During the 2010-11 school year, Everybody Wins! Atlanta reached more than 2,300 students in 13 Title I schools across metropolitan Atlanta. More than 7,000 books were distributed to program youth, many of whom may have little or no access to reading materials at home.

But statistics do not tell the entire story. Mentoring a child with reading is a rewarding, personal experience. I signed up as an Everybody Wins! Atlanta mentor over five years ago. The ease of the volunteer experience was extremely attractive to me as a busy attorney. Plus, as a former teacher, a lover of books, and a mother who instilled a love of reading into my children, I knew that even an hour a week could make a tremendous difference in a child’s life.

Each year, I have formed a bond with the child assigned to me, and I know our reading time is important to them, too. In fact, in all of my years of volunteering with Power Lunch, I have never had a child miss one of our scheduled reading times. Not once.

Recently, Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Deal and a retired teacher, visited the Power Lunch program at Cook Elementary School near downtown Atlanta. She read a story to the assembled children, and afterwards interacted with the Everybody Wins! Atlanta mentors and their students, asking the children about their interests and urging them to keep reading and improving their skills.

At Everybody Wins! Atlanta, we are in favor of both public and private programs that encourage reading and help students improve their proficiency. The more volunteers who join us, the more children we can serve. Our motto says it all: One mentor. One child. One book at a time. I invite anyone who is interested in making a substantial difference in the life of a child to visit www.everybodywinsatlanta.org and click the “Get Involved” button.

- Mary Jo Peed serves as chairman of the board for the Midtown-based Everybody Wins! Atlanta. Located at 1100 Peachtree Street, it is the local affiliate of the Everybody Wins! national non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting children’s literacy through programs designed to improve the reading skills of students in low-income public elementary schools.

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