In the fall of 2009, I attended Columbia Heights Day, a neighborhood festival celebrating all the wonderful things my neighborhood has to offer. The event took place on the recreational field of Harriet Tubman Elementary and some volunteers of the Grassroots Education Project were volunteering that day to sign up reading volunteers for their new program. Because education is an issue that is so important to me and I love reading, I knew I would enjoy it and quickly signed up.
I was eventually paired up with my current reading partner, which I’ve been reading with for over 2 ½ years. I have to say when she was first paired up with me, she was not an easy student to get along with. I quickly learned though that she was just really shy and hadn’t gotten to know me yet. I really bonded with her over this since I was also shy as a kid and we quickly became a great team. Once we got to know each other, she started enjoying reading and having long discussions with me about my job, making friends, and how to go to college,etc. Even if we take a break from reading, I strongly believe that just having these conversations with her will help her be more dedicated to working hard throughout her schooling and will encourage attending college and pursuing whatever career she wants. As a first generation college graduate, I know how important it is to have someone in your life to encourage and direct you towards attending college, especially when your parents are unable to.
I genuinely care about her doing well, both now and throughout her future education. She is a top-notch reader now and has read beyond a 5th grade level since half-way through 4th grade! I clearly can’t take all the credit as I believe that it is really a mixture of the Reading All-Stars program, the wonderful staff at Harriet Tubman, and her parents’ involvement in her education. I believe that through the program, her parents have found a way to be more involved. They love seeing her and her sister’s growth and achievement, which GEP highlights for all students at end of the semester celebrations.
In terms of what I’ve gained from Reading All-Stars, it really is so inspiring to work with kids with so much enthusiasm and potential. It is wonderful to see so many of my Columbia Heights neighbors committed to waking up early each Saturday to make sure the Harriet Tubman kids have the one-on-one time to develop reading skills that will help them throughout their lives. I love telling my friends and family stories about how smart and funny my student is, how involved her parents are, and how wonderful Reading All-Stars truly is. I have even recruited a few of my friends to volunteer each week and several others to be substitutes when they need extra volunteers!
I firmly believe that the Reading All-Stars program will continue for a long time due to their proven success in improving reading proficiency and neighborhood collaboration. I only hope that by volunteering our time each week, we are also providing an example of volunteerism and caring to the students that will encourage them to always give something back to their community. And, who knows, maybe one day, some Reading All-Stars kids will go back to Harriet Tubman to help a child become a better reader!