Twice a week, Sari England takes her son, Shane, to the Monument Library so that he can meet up with James Morton — a tutor with the Children’s Literacy Center.
She sits in a chair with her younger daughter and watches as Shane — a first-grader at Bear Creek Elementary School — interacts with Morton over the course of an hour. The two play games like hangman and Boggle, but everything they do revolves around reading. Pretty much whatever it takes to help make Shane a better reader.
“Shane was struggling with reading and his teacher recommended this program to help him get ahead,” Sari said. “We started in January and already I’ve seen a confidence in his reading.
“James is very good at making Shane’s self esteem boost and reading better and sounding out the words. Now Shane enjoys reading to me.”
Sari and Shane’s story is much like that of about two dozen other Tri-Lakes area elementary students that are struggling to read at grade level. That’s where the Children’s Literacy Center comes in.
“We have two one-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays evenings,” said Kelly Bryant, a Woodmoor resident and site coordinator for the Children’s Literacy Center in Monument. “Our first session is from 5 to 6, and our second session is 6:15 to 7:15.
“The benefit for me and the other tutors is the satisfaction of knowing that these kids are getting the benefit of one-on-one tutoring twice a week. Some of them improve by leaps and bounds once they hit our program. Some are a little slower. But I always get a tear in my eye come graduation time if the kids graduate and are reading at grade level. That’s a big deal for them in their life.”
Bryant performs a pre-assessment on every child who comes into the program. She performs a post-assessment after 12 weeks to determine if the child is ready for graduation.
“If they’ve achieved success we have a fun little party and celebrate,” Bryant said. “It’s nice a nice way to end the program.”
The tutors are all volunteers. They dedicate up to two hours a week at the Monument Library where they are assigned a child to work with for 12 weeks or more. Some, like Shane England will stay in the program for up to a year. He may not always have Morton as his tutor.
“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and sort of landed on this one,” said Morton, a North Gate resident who works in marketing for the Air Force Academy. “I know how to read and figured I could help a kid learn how to read.
“Reading is so important. College is harder. High school is harder. And it’s even harder if you can’t read well.”
Tutors range in age from 17 to 75.
Marija Srejic is a foreign exchange student from Serbia who attends Lewis-Palmer High School. She works with Kaitlyn Bull, a student at Bear Creek.
“I really like this,” Srejic said. “Kaitlyn and I have been together since the beginning.”
Shortly after Srejic got involved with the program she encouraged her host sister – Erika Beckner — to also come on board. Beckner is also a student at Lewis-Palmer.
Paula Primavera has been a tutor with the program for more than a dozen years.
“I enjoy the one-on-one with a child and I enjoy seeing them smile when they understand something and they can see for themselves that they are improving.”
The Children’s Literacy Center is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded and headquartered in Colorado Springs. It began as a Junior League project in 1991 and has since evolved into a state-wide effort that receives support from a broad base of individual donors, businesses, corporations, schools, and foundations.
There are presently 15 sites from Pueblo to Denver serving more than 800 students annually. The program has been in Monument for about 10 years.
“These kids might be missing a skill or not comprehending and the teachers refer the children to us,” said Gina Solazzi, executive director of the Children’s Literacy Center. “Our curriculum is designed to match the skills the students are missing.”
According to the Children’s Literacy Center, approximately 40 percent of fourth grade students in Colorado fail to meet state reading standards and more than 50 percent do not meet state writing standards.
“The older students are the harder students for many reasons,” Primavera said. “It’s hard to get them to come here twice a week when they could be doing something with their friends. So the commitment of the parent and the commitment of the child is huge.”
The program results in a 95 percent success rate. Program participants develop a solid reading foundation essential to success now and in the future.
“Before third grade you’re learning to read,” said Rebekah Gans, director of development for the Children’s Literacy Center. “After third grade you’re reading to learn.”
Those who would like more information on the Children’s Literacy Center go to http://www.childrensliteracycenter.org or call 719-471-8672.