CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Education experts predict more than 2,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students in first through third grades will need additional instruction in basic reading skills to reach grade level.
That statistic was provided by the Augustine Literacy Project, one of two volunteer literacy organizations approved by CMS to work with students this year.
The Charlotte-based organization tutors children from under-resourced families; the same families that were more likely to face challenges before the pandemic and during it.
“The mission of the Augustine Literacy Project is to improve the reading, writing and spelling skills of economically disadvantaged children who struggle with literacy,” Alison Houser, Executive Director of the program said. “Coming alongside teachers and families to get children that extra support they need and that one-on-one instruction to help kids that are behind getting back on track.”
The project is now actively looking for more volunteers to help meet the growing demand.
“That’s what we need more than ever,” Karen Crawford, the reading specialist at Rama Road Elementary School said. “They didn’t have their first day of school, they didn’t start off learning their letters in September in the classroom as they did. And many of them learned it in spite of that, but there’s still a large group of children that are still behind.”
Rama Road Elementary partners with ALP. Crawford called the volunteers an “important part of the school family.”
Volunteers undergo specific, science-based training to be able to teach children how to read, Houser said. They work one-on-one with a child twice a week for “high-dosage” tutoring.
The kind of tutoring ALP provides is believed to be one of the best strategies to mitigate the impact of missed instruction due to the pandemic, Houser said.
“The work has become even more critical,” she said. “It was important before the pandemic but the pandemic has really just exacerbated problems that existed before.”
Anjali Markey has been tutoring through the program for nine years.
“Our motto is tutor one child but changes two lives,” Anjali Markey said. “When you make that connection with that child and you know you’re helping them in an area that is helping them for the rest of their lives."
This year Markey is working virtually with a first grader.
She acknowledges tutoring is more challenging through a computer screen for some of the youngest learners but said she believes the work is more critical than ever.
Studies have found that pre-COVID, approximately 80% of CMS students that come from under-resourced families were not reading on grade level when they enter 4th grade.
Markey worries that that number will only be worse in the next year.
“I fear that they’re going to be even further behind,” she said.
“My hope is that we can close that gap in a year but we just don’t know yet,” she said. “Sometimes I look at the kids and I’m like, ‘gosh I really wish you were here every day and touching books and right buddied up to your teacher and another student learning to read.’ But, the same time, our kids and our staff have become so resilient.”
The Augustine Literacy Project is now looking for more volunteers to meet the demand. If you are interested in learning more about their work or participating, there is more information here.