Guest column by Dan Micciche, Dallas ISD District 3 trustee
By volunteering as a reading tutor at a DISD elementary school for just one or two hours a week, you can help change a child’s life and make a real difference in our community.
In Dallas ISD, 90 percent of our students are from economically disadvantaged families. Forty percent have limited English proficiency. We know that children who do not read at grade level by third-grade begin having difficulty comprehending the written material that is a central part of learning in subsequent grades.
Children who grow up in poverty often start school far behind middle-class children. That is why the school district is expanding parental education programs and pre-k.
The parents of kids who live in poverty often lack the knowledge and resources to supplement a child’s education to the extent that middle class families can. These parental education programs tell parents what they need to do to help their children succeed in school starting at age 2. (Of course, we wish this wasn’t necessary, but simply wishing that it wasn’t necessary doesn’t change anything.)
Research indicates that students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are much less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and succeed in the workplace. Closing this gap as early as possible is therefore imperative if we want kids from all income levels to succeed and our neighborhoods to grow and prosper.
We have great teachers who are deeply committed to our students, but the number of kids who start school far behind their middle-class peers creates a gap that is too large for our teachers alone to eliminate.
The single most important thing we as a community can do is to help our teachers ensure that every child is reading on grade level in elementary school. Individuals and neighborhood associations, churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations can play a role in narrowing the achievement gap.
Dallas ISD will have instructionally focused tutoring programs in all of our elementary schools this year with the goal of helping children catch up in reading. Volunteers have been doing many good things for our schools for years. But we generally have not asked volunteers to do things that are focused on helping to improve academic achievement.
One-on-one tutoring is the volunteer work that helps the most to increase student achievement. These volunteer tutoring programs will utilize structured curriculum that are easy for volunteers to follow and that reinforce classroom learning. The programs will train and supervise volunteers, and be coordinated with teachers and principals.
These types of programs have been successful at a number of schools, including, most recently, at Kiest Elementary in East Dallas. Thanks to great teachers, a great principal and an extraordinary group of volunteers, the reading scores in first-grade last year improved significantly and were worthy of a blue ribbon school.
As someone who ran my employer’s school adoption program with a high poverty DISD elementary school for seven years, I can assure you that helping a child learn to read proficiently will be among the most meaningful and rewarding things you will ever do.
Be part of the solution today by contacting the Dallas ISD volunteer and partnership services department by phone at 972.925.5440 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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