Read to Succeed to expand in Cape schools this fall

Friday, May 18, 2012

One way or the other, a volunteer-run reading improvement program will expand to more of Cape Girardeau's elementary schools this fall, according to coordinators.

Read to Succeed has helped kindergarten and first-grade students at Blanchard and Alma Schrader elementary schools raise their grade-level reading skills by using one-on-one sessions four times per week with volunteer tutors. With the program's effects continuing to show, both coordinators and school district administrators want to see one of two funding scenarios take it to Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools as well, starting in August.

"We are interested in expanding the program and as far as we can," Cape Girardeau superintendent Dr. Jim Welker said. "Getting our students reading well at an early age is critical."

Welker said the program, which began by serving 48 Blanchard kindergartners in 2010 and grew to include 44 Alma Schrader first-graders in 2011, is providing the district with an additional tool to help students read at or above grade level. A report that summarized reading levels for all elementary schools in the district showed 91 percent of kindergartners exceeded or met benchmarks for reading at or above grade level during the 2011-2012 school year, but only 51 percent of first-graders were doing the same.

The United Way of Southeast Missouri coordinates the programs at Blanchard and Alma Schrader with donated funding from the GRACES women's group, and more recently with a $10,000 gift from a private donor, which went to help pay for supplies.

United Way executive director Nancy Jernigan said there is a "plan A" and a "plan B" for getting the funding needed to expand Read to Succeed. The total cost of implementation in one school is around $8,000, which includes a $500 monthly stipend for a volunteer coordinator for 10 months of the year and $3,000 for supplies, including the phonics and word recognition book sets created by Southeast Missouri State University English professor Ann Gifford and artist Taylor Crowe.

Plan A is to fund expansion with an AmeriCorps grant through the Missouri Community Service Commission and cash matching by GRACES, according to Jernigan. Program coordinators applied for the grant earlier this year and expected to hear an announcement of recipients last week, but instead received an email from the commission that stated award announcements were delayed because of a need for funding clarifications at the federal level. Now the United Way expects the announcement around June 1.

Plan B involves the same private donor who gave $10,000 earlier in the year. The donor has offered $20,000 for expansion and continuation of current programs if the school district agrees to match funds. Bekki Cook, who volunteers her time to act as program coordinator for Read to Succeed at Blanchard Elementary, will present the school district a budget soon so that administrators can sort out details.

Welker expressed willingness to make that contribution if the United Way does not receive the grant, but also said the district must first know the details of its fiscal 2013 budget, which includes state formula funding. The state legislature recently approved keeping appropriations for Missouri's K-12 public schools flat to last year's amounts and added $5 million. The amount that could be spent on the program would also need to be approved by the school board. Appropriations for schools could still change in the coming weeks, Welker said, due to several funding scenarios under the formula that schools aren't sure which one they will receive.

The grant would stipulate that a volunteer coordinator be placed in each building and that a program coordinator would oversee all operations, Jernigan said. Monique Johnson, who coordinated Alma Schrader's program this year, would likely fill that role, she said. Several retired teachers from the area have also shown interest in acting as building volunteer coordinators.

As head coordinator, Johnson said she would like to create handbooks for volunteers and streamline the program administratively so substitutes could be found quickly if volunteers must miss a session or a student transferring to another school in the district will have no interruptions in the program.

Johnson and Cook will recruit about 150 volunteers needed for Franklin and Jefferson over the summer, as well as to fill some open spots at the other two schools. Jernigan said the program could serve up to six students from each of three classes in either kindergarten or first grade in both schools with that number of volunteers. Sessions last 40 minutes, and while volunteers often sign up for one session per week, some choose to do more back-to-back, Johnson said.

Blanchard principal Barbara Kohlfeld and Alma Schrader principal Ruth Ann Orr have both said the program not only helps improve reading levels for students, but also increases their exposure to community members, which seems to benefit both.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1840 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

1360 Randol Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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