Giving the Gift of Reading – Reading Partners

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

by Joanne Hernandez

All learning is built on the foundation of reading and Reading Partners is striving to make a difference.  Reading partners is a national nonprofit that partners with under-resourced schools.  The program engages volunteer reading partners (community tutors) to help students who struggle with reading unlock and develop the foundational skills they need to succeed in school and in life. Kendra Fujino, Program Director for the Silicon Valley region, shared the mission and goals of the program.

Can you give me a brief summary of the core goal of the program?

At our core, Reading Partners strives to help children become lifelong readers by empowering communities to provide individualized instruction with measurable results.

Our community-driven organization is highly data-driven. We recruit and train volunteers to work one-on-one with students for 45 minutes twice a week. Our program model works and is backed by evidence-based research which proves that our students make significant gains in reading. On average, Reading Partners’ students more than double their rate of learning while in the program.

In how many states and schools is the program currently operating?

In the 2015-16 school year, Reading Partners will serve 10,500 students in over 200 schools across 10 states.

How is the program funded and what is the plan for expansion?

Our program is funded by private contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporate sponsors, as well as government funding through the AmeriCorps program, and fee-for-service payments from our school partners. Fee for service not only allows Reading Partners to better leverage philanthropic dollars to serve more schools, but also ensures schools are invested in the success of the program. In Silicon Valley, we are expanding to serve 25 schools in the 2015-16 school year and are in discussion with new school districts to partner with next year.

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

Photo credit: Alexandra DeMarco, Senior Site Coordinator for Reading Partners.

What is the impact on students that receive one-on-one tutoring?

On average, our students more than double their rate of learning while in our program. Along with this progress, our students also show an increase in confidence and engagement in the classroom. According to individual teacher surveys, 99% of our students increased their confidence in reading after being in our program.

The following factors set us apart:

(1) We collect student achievement data and teacher feedback three times per year.

(2) Our curriculum teaches and practices the phonics and comprehension skills students need to be successful readers while being designed for implementation by community volunteers.

(3) Because we have a dedicated staff member in the building every day, Reading Partners successfully integrates into the culture and routine of our school partners. Last year 94% of principals reported an increase in school-wide reading progress thanks to the presence of Reading Partners’ program at their schools.

Most importantly, Reading Partners works. MDRC, the nation’s leading education research group, conducted a rigorous randomized control trial of Reading Partners in 19 schools across three states and the District of Columbia, involving more than 1,200 second- to fifth-graders. “This study provides some of the strongest evidence to date about the effectiveness of tutoring programs for young struggling readers,” said Robin Tepper-Jacob, the principal investigator for the study. “It demonstrates that a well-designed program, staffed largely by volunteers, can make meaningful differences in the lives of students” (Tepper-Jacob, Armstrong, & Altuna-Willard, 2015).

Key findings from the study include:

  • Reading Partners had a positive and statistically significant impact on three core measures of student reading proficiency—reading comprehension, reading fluency, and sight-word reading.
  • Reading Partners provides students with about a month’s worth of supplemental reading instruction during the year, yet helps students achieve about one-and-a-half months of reading achievement over and above the control students in that time.
  • Reading Partners is replicated in schools with a high degree of fidelity.
  • Reading Partners’ program was effective for a wide variety of students—from different grades or baseline reading achievement levels, male and female students, and for those who are not native English speakers.
  • Reading Partners is an affordable, high-value program for schools. By leveraging community-based and civic resources, we are able to provide a resource-rich program at less-than-half the cash cost of the total program value.

The findings from this evaluation are important because very few programs that have been rigorously evaluated at scale have been shown to improve reading outcomes for elementary school children.

What are the demographics of the student population?

Our student population includes students in grades K-4. We work closely with principals and teachers to identify students who are reading 6 months to 2.5 years below grade level, who will most benefit from high-impact, individual literacy instruction.  We mostly partner with Title I schools in predominately low-income neighborhoods where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Many of our students come from households where English is not the primary language, which presents further educational challenges for them. Across Silicon Valley, our student demographics are as follows: 76% Hispanic; 3% African-American; 2% Asian; 2% Caucasian; 1% Pacific Islander; and 16% Other/Unknown.

Are there any specific requirements to become a volunteer?

Volunteers have to be at least 14 years of age with 8th grade English skills and a negative TB test. For tutors who are over the age of 18, volunteers must be fingerprinted prior to tutoring a student.

What type of feedback do you typically get from volunteers of the program?

As the region with the oldest partnerships in the organization, we have volunteers who have been with us for close to or over 10 years. The positive feedback we receive throughout the year tends to be around the positive impact the program has on students, the relationships they build with their students as a mentor/mentee, and the ease of implementing the program even with little to no prior teaching experience. Each site has a full-time site coordinator who focuses on the successful implementation of the program and provides ongoing training and feedback to tutors.♦

To learn more about Reading Partners or to volunteer visit their website:

Joanne Hernandez was born in Phoenix, AZ where she lived until the age of 14 when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.  She completed her BS in Finance and Accounting, is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in California and works in Consulting.  She has varied interests ranging from volunteering, education, health and wellness, travel, culture, skincare, salsa dancing and “all things mommy”.  She lives in the San Francisco East Bay with her toddler son.