2020 WAS A difficult year for most, but for Reading Power—an early literacy tutoring program with roots in Lake Forest—it was a year of wow.
Working in partnership with underserved schools, Reading Power is a non-profit organization that provides one-to-one tutoring during the school day for children in prekindergarten through second grade. Their mission—Fostering the Promise of Literacy—is to accelerate children’s literacy learning by developing their love of reading and writing.
“When the world shut down last year, we knew our students needed us more than they ever did before,” says Kathy McFarland, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board for Reading Power. “So, we went back to work in a way we never imagined.”
Reading Power’s staff created a virtual tutoring program for their North Chicago kindergarten through second grade students. The virtual program was further enhanced by Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business who partnered with Reading Power last fall.
“Our pioneering virtual tutors did what it took to connect with their students,” Dr. McFarland explains. “And it worked.” This year, 110 students received one-to-one virtual tutoring with very promising results.
Marra Lochiatto, Vice Chair of the board who has been tutoring with Reading Power for the last eight years, had a front seat to many success stories.
“There was a definite learning curve for all of us,” Lochiatto says. “But there were so many sweet moments, too, as we learned to use the technology to keep our students engaged. There was so much more than reading instruction happening. We’ve been given valuable tools to build the student’s confidence and self-esteem and this was even more important during the pandemic.”
Each of the more than 250 Reading Power highly trained tutors receives nine hours of training before being matched with a student, and then ongoing professional development throughout the school year. Tutors are asked to commit to being on site at a school one day per week for two to three hours, depending on the program served. Programs are offered in the mornings and afternoons and the average student receives over 50 sessions per year.
“Our sites have 8-15 tutoring stations to meet the needs of at-risk students. A scale that school districts just can’t provide. At the heart of our program is the in-person, one-to-one, in-school experience,” says Dr. McFarland. “But going forward, we’ll keep a digital component as well.”
Reading Power’s program is so effective and the need is so great, it is extending the tutoring year and expanding its footprint to include schools in Waukegan and Zion this fall. There has even been talk about leveraging Reading Power’s digital learnings beyond Lake County, IL.
“Research shows that if we intervene with children in their early years and have them reading by third grade, students are five times more likely to graduate from high school,” Dr. McFarland says. “And those who don’t graduate from high school are three times more likely to be incarcerated.”
Reading Power is hosting its first-ever Play for Literacy Golf & Games event on September 13 at Onwenstia Club. It will be a day filled with golf, canasta instruction and play for non-golfers, and cocktails and dinner for all. Lochiatto, who is chairing the event, says that the planning committee has worked hard to ensure that there is something for everybody.
“Everyone who touches Reading Power becomes passionate about what we’re doing,” Dr. McFarland says. “We’re hosting this event so that more people can know our story, support us, and help us reach more students in need. As we said at our recent anniversary, our work is not done. 2020 taught us that our work really, really isn’t done.”
To learn more about Reading Power, become a tutor, or to purchase tickets to Play for Literacy Golf & Games, visit readingpowerinc.org.