We're helping local students become stronger readers to improve their lives
Early in 2016, we wrote about three programs that help children become better readers, and how Swagelok Northern California was contributing to that effort.
A lot has happened in the past year and a half. For one thing, Swagelok Northern California has taken on a full school sponsorship for the Reading Partners program. And because we have a full academic year behind us, we've been able to measure some results.
Close to home
For the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school years, Swagelok Northern California donated the funds to fully sponsor a Reading Partners Center at Alexander Rose Elementary School in Milpitas. Rebecca Fallow, our director of philanthropy at Swagelok Northern California, was also invited to join the regional board of directors.
Reading Partners is a national nonprofit group dedicated to improving the reading skills of students in the 1st through 4th grades. Twice a week, volunteers work one-on-one with students from low-income communities who are reading below grade-level.
"Our goal for all of the programs we support is to be as local as possible," Fallow says. Being so close to our Fremont headquarters makes it easier for our own volunteer associates to participate as tutors.
The space set aside for Reading Partners isn't fancy, but it's bright and comfortable and decorated with artwork that generates a good vibe. Just the fact that it's a dedicated space is significant, because that means there are no other activities going on nearby that might break the students' concentration.
A portion of Swagelok's funding goes toward the AmeriCorps volunteer who serves as a full-time site coordinator. The money is also used for materials and books, including a take-home library that lets each child choose a book after each session to keep.
The volunteer experience
We've also stepped up by providing volunteer tutors. One of them is me, Jeff Hopkins, Swagelok Northern California's marcom manager.
For the volunteer it's a fun experience. I worked with a pre-reader, a kindergartner just learning the alphabet, and it was cool to interact with a young child who is eager to learn and has lots of energy.
I met with him once a week, and he met with a different tutor once a week.
"They have a nice system of taking notes on how your lesson went and what could be worked on at the next session," says Fallow who is going into her fifth school year as a volunteer. "Even if you never meet the other person who is tutoring your student, you kind of feel like you know them. The curriculum Reading Partners uses is easy to follow. It allows someone who has no idea of how to do a reading lesson to become a reading expert. You can see how it builds from one lesson to the next."
Students who have learned their alphabet keep journals where they write down unfamiliar words, then draw pictures illustrating what the words means. At the third- and fourth-grade level, reading comprehension becomes a large element: Do they understand what they just read?
"If children don't know how to read, they are going to have trouble learning all the other important things in life."
Many companies in the Bay Area with an interest in education focus on STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
"That's all really great, but at the same time when a child is struggling to read, they are not able to become scientists and engineers," Fallow says. "There is a big gap between the kids who are high achievers and those who are struggling to put a sentence together."
Reading Partners is making progress, however. Among the 20 partner schools in the Silicon Valley Region this past year, 78 percent of all Reading Partners students met or exceeded their primary end-of-year literacy growth goal. In kindergarten through second grade, 89 percent of Reading Partners students mastered key foundational reading skills needed to read at grade level.
Swagelok Northern California also continues to support two other literacy programs in schools One is Reading Recovery, a short-term intervention program for first graders having extreme difficulty with early reading and writing. Specially trained and certified teachers work individually with students in daily 30-minute lessons lasting 20 weeks. Working with the New Haven Unified School District in Union City, we are sponsoring 10 teachers to be trained in a two-year program. In three of the schools, nearly every first-grade teacher will soon be a Reading Recovery teacher.
The other program is Raising A Reader, which helps families develop, practice and maintain home-based literacy routines for their children up to 8 years old. Swagelok Northern California has helped the program take root in seven Fremont schools, covering twenty four kindergarten classrooms.
"If children don't know how to read, they are going to have trouble learning all the other important things in life," Fallow says.
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