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Young Readers Get Vital Support from Star Readers After School Program
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who aren’t proficient in reading by the fourth grade are far less likely to graduate high school and attend college. The statistic becomes even more drastic for children from low-income families, and more drastic yet for children learning English as a second language. Last year, Sharon O’Neal decided to fight those statistics. She is one of many individuals who is making a difference by stepping up to the Prosper Lincoln community agenda.
As a paraprofessional educator at Saratoga Elementary, a Title I school in Lincoln, O’Neal saw a need. While there were a number of after-school programs designed at helping older students with reading proficiency, there wasn’t much available for kindergarten and first grade students. Enter the Star Readers Club: a dynamic, free, early intervention reading program created under the auspices of Lincoln’s Community Learning Centers (CLC). Star Readers uses Orton-Gillingham multisensory techniques to help struggling students improve their reading skills.
Orton-Gillingham techniques help students learn to read using visual, auditory, and physical stimuli. Making these multisensory associations helps students remember letter sounds, combinations of letters, or even entire words. Sharon O’Neal, the Program Director of Star Readers, has been trained on these techniques for years.
“Not every child learns the same,” she said. “We use multisensory teaching methods to help them overcome those learning differences.”
When O'Neal started Star Readers Club, she wasn’t sure there would be any interest from students. She asked teachers to identify students who would benefit from a program like Star Readers, and, surprisingly, 100 percent of students who were selected for the program accepted the invitation. There was a waiting list before the program had even officially started.
The next big obstacle was funding. Because Orton-Gillingham methods require trained instructors, O'Neal knew that the Star Readers program would need a funding source. Amazingly enough, the first ten-week session was funded entirely through private donations.
Twice a week for 45 minutes, students would meet after school and go through small group training with reading tutors. Not only were students rapidly improving their reading skills, they were having a blast doing it (just look at these photos!).
Even after the success of the first ten-week session, O'Neal was unsure of Star Readers’ future. That is, until she heard from the parents.
“Parents were telling me that they want their children to continue in the program. They could see the results, even at home.”
Teachers, too, saw the benefits for their students. “Star Readers reinforces what I teach in the classroom. Our children really need that kind of learning support,” said Julie McNeil, a first-grade teacher at Saratoga.
As the popularity of Star Readers continued to grow, O'Neal realized she was going to need two things: more funding and more tutors. For the former, she turned to the Lincoln Community Foundation and applied for a grant. She wrote the grant proposal herself, and, within a matter of weeks, the Star Readers Club had funding to continue the program.
In its first year, Star Readers Club helped 24 kindergarten and first graders, and you don’t have to take our word for it; the statistics speak for themselves. Data from the two ten-week sessions show a 53 percent gain in oral reading fluency, a 44 percent gain in blending sounds into words, and a 48 percent gain in high frequency word recognition among students—and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
This school year, Star Readers expanded again--adding more tutors to help even more children. In 2018, Star Readers plans to add additional programming during the summer to help additional K-1 students struggling with reading.
Moving forward, O’Neal and the Star Readers team want to provide other Title 1 schools with the resources they need to start their own after-school programs. If they can secure the funding, they would love to see Star Readers as a district-wide CLC program.
If you want to support Star Readers Club and help even more children improve their reading proficiency, visit HERE and designate your donation to the Star Readers Program.