YWCA of the Central Carolinas received a $15,000 grant last month from Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, an annual endowment awarded by Foundation For The Carolinas.
The foundation awarded $375,000 to 17 nonprofits that provide educational opportunities, safe housing and employment options to under-served and financially strained populations.
The $15,000 will support the YWCA Youth Learning Center’s program Reading Basics – Reading Success.
“Reading is a big, important topic these days; more than half of all third-graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not reading at grade level,” said Matt Garfield, YWCA director of marketing. “This grant will enhance our work with early learners who are having trouble learning the basics of reading.”
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Reading Basics – Reading Success assists students in kindergarten through second grade as they work towards reading at grade level. Garfield said 46 percent of the more than 360 students the YWCA serves participate in the program.
Reading Basics is broken into two parts: emerging and accelerated readers. Emerging readers need to learn and comprehend the first 100 sight words on the Fry Word List – an educational measure of the 1,000 most frequently read early words – to be successful readers, according to Garfield. These words are a national standard of most-used words in reading and writing.
Reading is a big, important topic these days – more than half of all third-graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not reading at grade level.
Matt Garfield, YWCA director of marketing.
Emerging readers learn using a Web-based literacy program called IBM Reading Companion, which uses speech recognition to analyze the way students repeat sentences to improve pronunciation.
When emerging readers master the 100 words through virtual books in IBM Reading Companion, they move to Accelerated Reader grade-level books. AR allows instructors to measure progress, identify areas of weakness and chart improvement, Garfield said.
The program promises that at least 65 percent of early readers will progress to AR and commits AR to advancing 65 percent of student reading levels by four months, within a school year.
Lelia Smallwood, regional director of youth programs for the YWCA, said that while the program relies on technology to rate accuracy and pick up on delays in reading comprehension and phonetics, the program also offers many other ways to engage with students on literacy and reading comprehension.
Smallwood said, “We use a balanced literacy approach; different activities go on in small groups including children reading independently, participating in guided reading and literacy-focused activities with an instructor and working on the computer.”
This program motivates students to read.
Mia Bolden, YWCA Southside learning center site coordinator
Smallwood and Mia Bolden, YWCA Southside learning center site coordinator, agreed it’s important for students to have fun and learn. As part of the Reading Basics program, the YWCA provides weekly field trips and rich cultural activities that enhance their curriculum, such as a summer field trip to the Riverbank Zoo, a trip to The Charlotte Museum of History and Time to Cook Tuesdays, during which students and parents follow recipes and cook a variety of meals together at the learning center.
“This program motivates students to read,” said Bolden, who has been working in education for 17 years.
She said the $15,000 grant will help purchase more technology and pay for special activities and field trips for the reading program.
“It is offered to students whose parents average less than $16,000 per year,” said Smallwood. “It costs $1.2 million to run our youth programs, because we provide these services at no charge to parents.”
The centers work to help youths living in high-poverty areas overcome generational poverty by improving their education, said Smallwood.
Reading Basics – Reading Success is provided through YWCA’s Youth Learning Centers; there are 10 in Charlotte and two in Union County. The youth centers provide free after-school and full-day summer care and tutoring.
YWCA partners with the Charlotte Housing Authority and housing locations on site at four public-housing locations in Charlotte and Monroe. YWCA also partners with Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation to provide locations at two recreation centers, and partners with CMS to host a location at Billingsville Leadership Academy.
Bolden said the focus on literacy will set students up for success.
“It helps with every other subject. You cannot break down a math word problem or work on a science project if you cannot read,” she said. “It’s just words on a page.
“We see that when they can read, everything else improves.”
Crystal O’Gorman is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.ywcacentralcarolinas.org for details on YWCA’s youth programs.