For the past two years I've volunteered with an organization called Reading Partners, a national education nonprofit dedicated to improving students' reading skills. The statistics are heartbreaking: Four out of five students from low-income families aren't able to read at grade level and last year, a quarter of the freshmen at a local high school were reading at or below a fourth grade level.
I first got involved with reading buddies when I was feeling blue, and my mom told me that I needed to focus my attention on something bigger than myself (sage advice and on a similar note, I found this recent article so moving). It's intimidating to get involved with a new organization -- there can be a lot of bureaucracy or training that makes it seem like more of a hassle than it's worth -- but once I started working with Reading Partners I only wished I had started sooner. It's just reading -- one of, if not the most important skill we take away from education. I grew up obsessed with reading, always buried in a book, sometimes even getting in trouble at school for reading too much. My grandma was a librarian and both my parents are avid readers, and I now realize what a luxury it is to come from a family that places such an emphasis on reading -- how much I took it for granted and what a profound effect it had on me.
The best thing about the program is how much the students love it. I had preconceived notions that these kids were going to be frustrated and uninterested, but it's the opposite. Almost all of them will tell you that Reading Partners is their favorite time of day. They are truly sad when they have to miss a session, and starting a new book is now something they look forward to. To say it's the most rewarding part of my week is an understatement. The Charleston chapter is looking to double their number of volunteers (we're currently at 400), but Reading Partners is a national organization so wherever you are, learn more here.