Funding for reading program at risk

KINGSTON — As part of the Washington Reading Corps program, North Kitsap second and third graders spend about 30 minutes a day turning pages and changing obstacles into knowledge.

The program, which is offered at Wolfle and Breidablik, faces possible funding cuts from the state Legislature. Grant money used to get the program up and running in the North Kitsap School District will also run out soon.

During the course of the year, those extra brow-furrowing minutes spent reading with tutors and teachers have become skill-sharpening hours for students. Those hours, according to recent test results, have contributed to more than six months improvement in the students’ reading levels.

Of the 46 targeted Wolfle students, 70 percent made “substantial gains” while 30 percent have already made grade level said Pat Bennett-Forsman program administrator at Wolfle.

The Washington Reading Corps program relies on volunteers in the community and Americorp and VISTA members for its success.

Parent Christie Jensen doesn’t have to look at test scores to know how much the extra practice has helped — all she has to do is watch her son read.

With the help from tutors and teachers she said “he went from 0 to 90.”

“Austin is a very intelligent little boy,” she said, but when it came to reading he struggled. He also had to deal with the frustration that came with falling behind.

“He just wanted to be like them — to open a book and start reading,” she said.

With continued support from his parents, school and community in just six months his reading level has advanced by more than a year.

Austin surprised his parents when he picked up a Newsweek and began reading aloud an article about the Enron scandal, his mom said.

“He was reading words like revenue and subsidiary,” Jensen said.

His successes in reading are stepping stones, they’re building blocks, she said.

“It’s sort of a miracle for us.”

It’s not just the students who benefit from the extra help, volunteers said it’s a mutual feeling.

About 30 students at Breidablik get tutoring in the afternoon. Thursday the second graders and their reading partners are scattered throughout the library.

Volunteer Curly Wilder offers encouragement as student David Marquiss reads aloud.

“This little guy here had a rough time at first, but now, you can listen to him read,” Wilder said in his thick West Virginia accent.

This is his first year as a reading tutor and he calls the experience a pleasure. He said the few hours he spends a week with the children leaves him feeling fulfilled and reminds him of being a student.

“I had trouble with reading myself,” he said.

The children at Wolfle and Breidablik have met the challenge of learning new words. Now the onus is on state legislators to find money in the budget for the reading corps and similar programs.

Wolfle has one more year of WRC in front of them. After that the outlook for a volunteer-based program looks hazy. Breidablik’s grant dries up this year.

The program serves grades Kindergarten through six statewide. More than 20,000 students each year have received tutoring at nearly 200 schools with WRC grants.

The state funded reading corps began in 1997. In 2001 its funds were cut from $8 million to $4 million. Now it could be completely scraped from the bare bones budget.

Legislators are looking at any non-basic programs to see if there is any fat to be had. No threats have been made directly to WRC said Mary VanVerst, Ph.D., Program Development and Evaluation Coordinator The Washington Commission for National and Community Service. But she has heard talks of taking away funding. These talks could become actions by the end of the month she said.

School district officials must also face the fact Wolfle’s program has one more year of WRC grant money left. After then the district will have to look at coordinating the programs itself. The Rolling Readers program is looking at the same funding fate Bennett-Forsman said.

“We can’t assign the coordination of 50 volunteers to someone with a full-time job. People have to have time to do this,” she said.

District and reading program officials plan to meet next month to draft a plan that would help keep the programs afloat.

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