In the last school year, just over half of Waco’s third-grade population were reading on level or above. Research shows this is a crucial year in a child’s development. Soon, they’ll be reading to learn and without a strong foundation, they could fall behind. But that’s why local schools have teamed up with community groups and churches to provide those students with the help they need.
It’s lunchtime at Waco Charter School and students are heading down the halls, filing in line to get their corn dogs. And after grabbing their lunch, some will go and play but others will head to a corner of the school that’s lined with stacks of books.
That's where Monique Kazadi and a core of mentors are preparing to read with students. Kazadi, who has volunteered at the Waco Charter School for the last 3 years, visits every Friday during lunch, helping kids with their reading comprehension.
“That’s a tough one," Kazadi says, tell her student to sound out the word. "Skedaddle. What does skedaddle mean?”
This particular book club is part of the STARS mentorship program – an initiative out the Antioch Community Church that’s in the school’s neighborhood. The program also serves Provident Heights elementary, which is in the Waco Independent School District. Stephanie Korteweg oversees the program at these schools.
“We didn’t develop the program to kind of touch on math or science," Korteweg says. "We really kind of focused it on reading, again, because it’s a foundation of a lot of different core subjects in and throughout a child’s life.”
In recent years, district officials say Waco ISD has looked to mentorship programs with community groups in order close achievement gaps and to boost student reading proficiency. In the last school year 53 percent of Waco’s third grade population were reading on level, or above. And there’s an impetus to boost that number. Korteweg, a former teacher herself, says that’s where mentors can help.
“If we got a lot of people putting their shoulder into this and meeting with kids and investing a small amount of time consistently, I think the impact on this community could be amazing," Korteweg says.
Without a strong reading foundation, research shows that students are at an increased risk of dropping out, or failing to graduate high school on time. If a student is unable to read proficiently, understanding the material becomes that much harder.
Back at Waco Charter School – fourth graders Shammeon Whitaker and Stephanie Marin are finishing up their lunch. The two are taking turns reading their book, “Who Was Anne Frank?” They are both a little bit microphone-shy, but together the girls say their time spent reading with their mentor is valuable to them and they’ve enjoyed learning about Anne Frank.
"She lived in Frankfurt, Germany," both girls say, adding they enjoy the book.
Kelly Lee has been mentoring the girls for the last several months. She says reading was an important part of her life and she wants to share that.
“You get to invest in somebody’s life and they invest right back into us. It’s just an easy, you just have to show up. They do all the work."
Throughout the city, other schools have turned towards similar programs with community groups and churches, and they’re looking to add more.