Reading Allies, an innovative reading initiative to improve literacy among elementary school students across Alabama, is the University of Alabama Honors College’s passion project for the upcoming Bama Blitz crowdfunding campaign.
Reading Allies aligns with the goals of the recently passed Alabama Literacy Act, which requires all students to read at grade level by the end of their third-grade year. The program has expanded its reach throughout Tuscaloosa County and the Black Belt region, also partnering with Progress Rail in Marshall County and other corporations committed to helping children master reading skills.
According to Claire Stebbins, assistant director, the group hopes to raise $10,000 during Bama Blitz, an inspiring online fundraising event for alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends to come together and support UA.
Beginning at noon March 25 and ending at 8:31 p.m. March 26, Bama Blitz will celebrate UA’s founding year, 1831, with one day, eight hours and 31 minutes of giving.
Reading Allies combines the resources of higher education entities, businesses, corporations, foundations, civic groups, individuals and school systems by pairing volunteers with striving readers in local schools to bring students’ reading skills up to grade level. Reading Allies is modeled on a successful program developed in 2017 by retired Tuscaloosa educator Jeanne Burkhalter, community leader Pam Parker and others through a collaborative effort among the UA Honors College, Tuscaloosa Rotary Club and Tuscaloosa City Schools.
Using a 10-week program model with classes of up to 15 students, a skilled Reading Allies specialist develops individualized lessons, which are taught by trained volunteer tutors. These volunteers, many of whom are UA students, undergo a comprehensive training process where they learn literacy best practices and how to effectively work with a striving reader.
“A highly skilled Reading Allies specialist and committed volunteers are the keys to success for these students,” said Vicki Holt, director of Reading Allies. “Having the ability to pinpoint exactly where a student needs help and then to couple that individualization with a one-on-one mentor make the biggest difference for students, both in their reading skills and in their attitudes toward reading.”
UA System Chancellor Finis St. John and Dr. Robert E. Witt, former UA president and chancellor emeritus, are co-chairs of Reading Allies. Having seen firsthand the impact Reading Allies has made in Tuscaloosa, Witt is optimistic the same results can be achieved in other parts of the state when communities come together.
“Challenges like reading proficiency are best addressed when the community takes ownership of the challenge and becomes an integral part of the solution,” said Witt. “What is unique about Reading Allies is that partners across our state are coming together to support the hard work already being done in our schools.”
According to Stebbins, positive results are already being seen. At Tuscaloosa’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 81% of program participants reached their benchmark and did not see a decline in reading skills over the summer break.
To support Reading Allies, donors can make a gift online at Bama Blitz’s website.
This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.