Sheila Harmon's daughter Akia hadn't always been a fan of school and all that comes with it, but the third-grader's mindset was changed by the Reading Explorers program at Edwards Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Now, Akia is helping her prekindergarten brother learn how to read, and her enthusiasm is obvious.
“She wasn't reading very well when she started the program,” Harmon said. “Now she can read a whole book. Before, she would come home and look at TV first, but now she does her homework and reads — and then she asks if she can look at television.”
The Reading Explorers program is an offshoot of a broader program that began five years ago at the school. It is funded by SandRidge Energy and the Inasmuch Foundation and coordinated by Public Strategies, an Oklahoma City organization that specializes in education strategies.
But the glue that holds the project together is the army of citizen mentors who visit the school every week to spend an hour with an assigned student. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, employees from SandRidge and other companies filled the media center, helping students read books on subjects from castles to the life of astronaut Sally Ride.
Reading is perhaps the most critical skill a child can learn, and with recent changes to state law that require students to read on grade level by the time they complete third grade, a program tailored to reading was needed.
“We knew that the law was changing, and we didn't want to see these kids impacted negatively by it,” coordinator Sandino Thompson said.
Thompson said studies show a correlation between literacy and incarceration rates.
“There are studies that say third-grade reading scores are predictors of spending time in jail cells. The percentage of people who are incarcerated and who are illiterate is ridiculous.”
When combined with a five-week summer program, the Reading Explorers program, now in its third year, has reduced the number of first-graders who were below reading level from 77 to 19, and the number went from 48 to 19 among second-graders. Among third-graders, it dropped from 73 to 24.