Getting started in a school-business reading partnership

The Role of the Business Partner

As the corporate sponsor of a school-business reading partnership, you are making a commitment to become closely involved in a team effort to raise the reading performance of the students in a local school.

Once your company has identified a partner school, your primary role involves providing a dedicated group of employee, volunteers who will agree to work either one-on-one or with a small group of students who need extra help with reading related skills.

It is up to you and the school to choose the best format for pairing volunteers with students. Options include working with students before or after school or during the day as part of the language arts instruction. It isrecommended, based on the Reading by 9 project, that volunteer reading programs take place during the school day and target students in grades one through three.

Volunteers typically spend one hour per week working with a child or small group of children. The program spans four to eight months of the school year.

The time your volunteers spend at the school willsignificantly improve the students' reading interests.Your company will be a catalyst to motivate children to read well and read for fun.

This breakthrough will make students eager for theclassroom instruction that will ultimately advance their reading grade level.

In addition to providing a core group of readingvolunteers, your company will likely identify other ways to help your partner school. As your school-businessrelationship improves, you may provide other services such as sponsoring book giveaways, hosting parent nights and rewarding students who achieve reading success.

Items to consider when identifying a partner school:

  • Proximity. Where is the school located in relation to your main work-site and the commuting patterns of your employees?
  • MSPAP test scores. Elementary schools with low MSPAP third grade reading scores are obvious candidates. (Data available through the MD Dept. of Education, Office of Information Management)
  • Receptiveness. Look for a school that, despite low MSPAP reading scores, appears to be well-managed.
  • Level of involvement. Seek out a school that does not currently benefit from another partnership.

Once you've defined your criteria for selection, there are several resources available that can help you decide:

  • Every local school district in Maryland has a partnership coordinator who specifically facilitates the process of matching businesses with schools who need assistance.
  • Each district's Office of Elementary Education is also a good starting point for referrals and direction.
  • Additional information can be obtained through The Abell Foundation, Baltimore Reads, The Baltimore Sun's Reading by 9 Program and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

Step-by-Step Guide for Getting Started

Step 1: Meet with School Principal & Staff Reading Specialist:

Once you've identified a school that is a good candidate for a reading partnership with your business, the first step is to initiate a meeting with the Principal and the reading specialist who coordinates and administers the reading curriculum for the school.

During the initial meeting you will want to address the following:

  • Express your company's interest in working with the school to tutor students who need extra help with reading.
  • Discuss how the school may want to utilize your employee-volunteers.

Your goal is to decide on a volunteer format and schedule. For example, the reading specialist may recommend pairing your volunteers with 2nd grade students who are not reading at grade level.

For example, the coordinator may designate Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. as the time for volunteer tutors and reading coaches to work in the school.

Step 2: Invite Your Employees to Volunteer:

Choose someone within your company to be the point- person to handle the overall coordination of your volunteer effort. That person will need to solicit your employees and identifypotential volunteers. There are several factors that may determine the number of employees who respond. These factors include:

  • Company Support. By stating up front that you will allow your employees to volunteer on company time you will be assured a greater response and convey the message that your company feels this is a worthwhile effort and is willing to lend real support.
  • Personnel Resources. Consider the overall size of your workforce and its history of community service and corporate volunteerism. You should expect roughly 10 to 15 percent of your total workforce to express interest in volunteering.
  • Company Makeup. The presence and influence of labor unions may affect employees' attitudes toward a company-endorsed volunteer community service effort.
  • Communication Strategy. Disseminating a well thought-out, highly visible solicitation notification that is compelling and attractive will likely generate interest and responses.

Step 3: Train Your Employee Volunteers

Two elements are crucial to the success of a volunteer tutorial program. First, you must have committed volunteers who will take these responsibilities seriously and will participate in all sessions. Children are verysensitive and come to expect to see their tutor/reading coach on scheduled sessions. Having a few "substitute" or "back-up" volunteers on-hand to fill-in for other volunteers is a good strategy for this type of program.

Second, you must provide training for volunteers. Provide two to three hours of training to brief your employee volunteers on the following topics:

  • the role of a reading coach/tutor
  • characteristics of young children relative to reading
  • techniques for conducting reading sessions
  • specifics on the volunteer format at the school
  • role playing to allow volunteers to practice various reading techniques

Training reduces the pre-tutoring anxiety your volunteers could experience. In addition, it produces positive outcomes for the students you are working with, since everyone begins with the same base level of instruction.

There are a variety of resources to turn to for assistance in training your employee volunteers. Consult commercial tutorial services such as Sylvan Learning Systems; literacy non-profit organizations; librarians who specialize in children's services; and universities that offer education programs.

It is a good idea to involve the staff at your partner school in the training, especially when it comes to the specifics of how volunteers should interact with students.Training should be scheduled to occur around the time that volunteering will begin. Volunteers will leave the training sessions feeling enlightened and excited about trying out their new skills.

Step 4: Just Do It

Proper Planning is vital to a successful school business reading partnership. However, the time will come to put your plans into action and "just do it." Through trial and error, you will work out the bugs as you go along. Keep a positive outlook and understand that this is a new experience. Also, be sure to communicate this spirit of adventure to your volunteers as you collect ongoing feedback on how the process is working.

Step 5: Assess and Adjust

Just as you would build assesment milestones into the implementation of a new product or service, you should plan to monitor your school-business reading partnership. Identify the aspects that work well and the ones that may need to be adjusted. Feedbackshould come from both the school as well as the volunteers. Encourage the school to be candid, and let them know that constructive comments will help all involved to improve and strengthen the partnership.

What Level of Financial Commitment is Involved in Establishing a School-Business Reading Partnership ?

The establishment and maintenance of an effective partnership to enhance the reading skills of students in grades one through three is an investment for the future. Your company should budget $5,000- $8,000 per year on the following:

Anticipated Expenditures Supplies for (25-40) volunteers per school (Imprinted items such as tote bags to promote your volunteer effort and show appreciation to volunteers)$1,000 Volunteer Training Services 1,500 Books 3,500 Contingency (to sponsor a reading activity, field trip, parents activity, or donation to a school library during the year)1,000 Small incentive items to motivate students 500 Misc. other items/supplies 500TOTAL $8,000

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