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Change a life: why mentor reading works

Become a reading mentor and you can help boost literacy, one child at a time.

Access, socioeconomic level, ability: There are many contributing factors that may lead a child to struggle with reading, but any lag in this essential skill for younger children has far-reaching consequences. Take high school graduation. If a child isn’t a reader by the end of third grade, they are far less likely to receive a diploma, according to the National Research Council. And recent tests by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that nearly 1 out of every 3 fourth graders struggles with literacy skills.

But there’s good news and an immediate way to make a positive impact for kids: mentor reading. Studies show that adult involvement improves not only reading skills and enjoyment but also attitudes about school, participation in extracurricular activities, outlook on the future and, in the end, a child’s chance of continuing education. Ready to make a difference in your own home and for other children? Try these ideas:

  1. Boost a child’s ability
    Literacy mentors — part coach, part cheerleader — can be found in schools and community organizations across the country. These volunteers’ one and only goal? Help children learn to love reading. How they accomplish that varies. Some may read (and be read to) for an hour a month with one child or a whole class. Some may complete formal training and commit to a weekly reading session that aligns with a specific curriculum.

    Your next step: Search an online volunteer database, such as® , or contact your local school for connections to childhood community literacy programs.

  2. Boost a child’s access
    You may have heard of the concept of a food desert: an economically challenged area in which residents have little or no access to fresh food. Some literacy experts have begun to use the idea of a book desert to characterize lack of access to reading materials for children . Their findings can be stark. In one recent study, a low-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C., had just 1 book for every 830 K-12 children. Reduced access may lead to literacy difficulties. If there are no books to check out from a library, no books to buy and no family resources for purchases, there may be an impact on interest and ability.

    Your next step: Struggling schools may not have a volunteer organization that can fund a book distribution plan — but you may be able to. Consider a book drive among friends, and work with literacy experts at a school to provide a book to every child in a classroom to take home as his or her own.

  3. Boost a school’s resources
    School libraries continue to be affected by shrinking public school budgets: Nearly one-fourth of school libraries have had budgets cut by 40 percent since 2010 . And 13 million students — 3.4 million of them in poverty and 6.6 million of them students of color —  have less than 10 items per student of reading material . Exposing children to a range of writing and reading types can help improve language and interest in reading.

    Your next step: Volunteer to organize a book drive to benefit a school in need in your community. Work with your school district’s literacy staff to identify particular needs, and ask friends, neighbors and coworkers to donate.

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