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Kids’ reading programs are running low on cash flow

POULSBO — With federal funding for reading programs shrinking, the North Kitsap School District hopes to raise enough money to run programs of its own.

For the last few years, several elementary schools throughout the district have been aided by organizations such as Americorps and VISTA, the latter started in 1964 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

The programs pay for coordinators, who in turn run volunteer-fueled reading programs in the elementary schools.

Through those programs, hundreds of elementary-school students have gotten extra reading tutoring during school days.

But now the dollars are disappearing. “The funding is being reduced, and it’s more of a challenge,” said Therese Caldwell, who is the volunteer coordinator for the district.

As an example, Caldwell points to the Vista program, which pays coordinators — usually recent college graduates — a small allowance to move to a community, immerse themselves in it, and coordinate and design a reading program.

In the past, North Kitsap had as many as four or five Vista coordinators. This year, they were given the funding for one coordinator and raised the money for a second themselves — and next year they may not be so lucky.

“Next year,” Caldwell said, “we probably won’t get that.”

Since the schools can’t count on funding anymore, Caldwell said, they would instead like to build reading programs of their own.

While many of the programs succeed because of volunteer hours, Caldwell said, the coordinator position is often too demanding for a volunteer. Money is needed to pay a coordinator.

So the district’s Vistas, who normally spend 80 percent of their time designing or coordinating the reading program at their schools, will spend this year informing the community about the programs and raising money, both through local sources and through nation-wide grants.

While no specific target has been set, Caldwell said that $20,000 would be a good amount to help guarantee the reading programs for next year.

Eventually, Caldwell added, the money could fund even more than that. She would like to see before- and after-school programs, homework clubs, and more.

“There are a lot of possibilities down the road,” she said.

The district would eventually like to provide a trained reading tutor for every second-grade student in the seven elementary schools.

This year’s Vista coordinators will work with four schools: Gordon, Poulsbo, Pearson, and Breidablik Elementary. (They will be trained in Portland, Ore. in November and arrive later that month in North Kitsap).

The Americorps coordinators will work at Wolfle and Breidablik Elementaries.

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