As a child, I loved to read. Books fed my imagination and gave me views of the world far beyond what was near to me. Literacy opens so many doors—without it, access to all that the world has to offer is limited. It was sobering for me to learn that the majority of fourth-grade students from historically under-resourced neighborhoods in D.C. are not reading at grade level. And it’s alarming that students who are not reading proficiently by the end of fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time.

These troubling statistics moved me to act. I decided to find a way to be a part of the solution. I looked for volunteer opportunities to tutor children—and found Reading Partners, a children’s literacy nonprofit that works to advance educational equity in D.C.  

I became a Reading Partners volunteer tutor three years ago at Rocketship Legacy Public Charter School in Ward 7. Each day that I reported to the reading center, I observed students dressed in their crisp uniforms, moving cheerfully through the bright hallways adorned with affirmations and college aspirations. The time I spent with each student, sunny with excitement upon each new reading accomplishment, became a bright spot of my week.

One morning, the second-grader I was tutoring asked me if I had gone to college. When I replied yes, she became excited and asked me to tell her all about college. I was happy to support her intention to receive a college degree. Another time, a third-grader and I talked about places in the world that I have visited. I enjoyed encouraging in her a vision of herself in the larger world. When I volunteered, I felt deeply the importance of students having role models who look like them.

During my first year, I became very impressed with the organization’s professionalism, competence, and commitment. My confidence in Reading Partners is underscored by its results. In my second year, I enthusiastically joined the Reading Partners DC board of directors.

Before the pandemic, Reading Partners DC was working with nearly 1,000 elementary school students a year with the help of about 1,000 volunteer tutors. Volunteers are trained to use Reading Partners’ research-based curriculum to deliver one-on-one tutoring sessions tailored to each child’s specific needs. Each student typically gets two 45-minute tutoring sessions a week.

And then the pandemic hit. Because of school closures, most students have experienced some learning slide. Children from historically under-resourced communities have experienced an even more pronounced decline due, in great part, to inequitable access to high-quality literacy support. To meet the sudden need to tutor our students virtually, Reading Partners developed an online tutoring program. The program, called Reading Partners Connects, is engaging and easy to use. With the help of a structured, evidence-based curriculum, and a variety of culturally relevant texts that speak to children’s interests, students and tutors are able to continue to build relationships that accelerate learning and lift confidence.

Students and their parents also now get free access to a large library of children’s e-books with uplifting stories that include diverse characters solving everyday problems to accomplish extraordinary feats. Students can view themselves years ahead through the stories. As they see themselves succeeding with reading, they can see themselves succeeding elsewhere. I am happy to see students transition from hesitant to confident readers, eager to learn more. This is why I became a tutor and donor to Reading Partners.

Our volunteer tutors are crucial to our mission. They empower young readers to build proficiency with a fundamental skill necessary for success. They share a love of literacy with students who get a boost from one-on-one attention. They invest their time and energy in the success of a new generation.

As we head into the second year of remote tutoring, we know the demand for our program is increasing. To combat the pandemic slide, especially for students in historically marginalized communities, major local investments in early literacy are vital. I encourage you to support Reading Partners. Please consider the following:

●  Volunteer — Sign up to become a reading partner and tutor from your office or home. A commitment of just a little over an hour a week can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

●  Donate — Invest in our students’ futures by donating to Reading Partners DC. Every dollar counts.

●  Advocate — If you are a D.C. resident, call or email your councilmember to voice your support for early literacy funding at this critical time.

I am very grateful for all of our donors, volunteer tutors, AmeriCorps members and staff who make our program happen. I visualize a future of opportunity for the bright, curious, resilient students who Reading Partners empowers to achieve their literacy goals. The past year has been incredibly challenging, but the support from people like you will help our early literacy program reach more young readers. 

By Yvette LaGonterie, Reading Partners tutor and board member

After over 30 years in a federal career where she held senior positions in immigration operations and policy, Yvette LaGonterie is pleased to have time to dedicate to Reading Partners DC.  She has been a volunteer tutor for three years and is completing her second year on the Reading Partners DC Board of Directors. She also serves on the board of directors of the City Tavern Preservation Foundation in Georgetown and chairs the Advisory Board of MIRR Alliance. @ylagonterie