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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.

Quotes From Our Supporters

Prosper Lincoln is one of the most exciting community engagement and community-building efforts happening in the country.  It’s a real model!

Dan Cramer, Co-founder, Grassroots Solutions, St. Paul, MN

Prosper Lincoln will not only benefit all of your kids and your community; it is also a model for similar efforts around the country, thanks to the leadership of LCF.

Richard Ober, President & CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; Founder Community Foundation Opportunity Network; Concord, NH

Communities across the US are searching for innovative initiatives to improve economic opportunity and mobility.  We can all learn from the amazing work of Prosper Lincoln!

Brian Collier, Executive Vice President, Foundation for the Carolinas

Prosper Lincoln is breaking new ground in economic revitalization without displacement.

Ellen Shepard, CEO, Allies, Chicago, IL

To see an entire community come together to ensure all Lincoln residents are successful is very inspirational.  Congratulations!

Nancy Van Milligen, President/CEO, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Dubuque, IA

In my regional and national work in community development this is one of the most unique and exciting strategies for true change I have seen!

Del Gines, Senior Community Development Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Omaha, NE

Bringing together a multi-sector group of committed Lincoln residents will support prosperity for all.  Congratulations on this excellent collaboration.

Holly C. Sampson, President, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Duluth, MN

Diverse voices from across Lincoln came together so that current and future generations can thrive. This is no small feat, and it’s inspiring to see that collective vision inch closer to fruition. You can consider yourselves a model for other communities starting to embark on this work.

Megan Powers, International Program Officer, The McKnight Foundation Minneapolis, MN

There is no better example of the power of convening than Prosper Lincoln! Bringing together members of the community from all walks of life to enrich the City is inspiring.

Regine Webster, Vice President Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Washington, DC

Prosper Lincoln is creating a national model for building vibrant, equitable and resilient communities.  Systems thinking + the right resources!

Sandy Wiggins, Chair, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Washington, DC

Prosper Lincoln is an important approach to solving community problems. By bringing together local businesses, nonprofits, neighborhoods, government and faith organizations, they are bridging divides, building connections, and sparking opportunities in way that shows true community engagement.

Vikki Spruill, President and CEO, Council on Foundations

This is one of the most impressive community focus efforts I have seen. You are making considerable progress!

Cynthia Hardin Milligan, Trustee and former Chair of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, MI

Lincoln is one of a few cities across America where citizens and leaders from across different sectors have come together to tackle their community’s most complex challenges. Your ability to already show results and persevere is inspiring.

Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, Washington, DC

Solving tough national problems like the opportunity gap begins locally, and Prosper Lincoln is leading the way.

Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy and author, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

There is nothing more powerful in securing a community’s long-term health than evolving a shared vision through community engagement. Congratulations!

Rip Rapson, President, The Kresge Foundation, Detroit, MI