At the start of the school year, Christine Smith decided to spend some of her time volunteering at Hayes Elementary School, lending a hand to students who need a little extra help with their reading skills.
Smith spends about three afternoons each week working with students.
She is one of about 20 volunteers helping out at schools around the district with a program called Project More, a free tutoring initiative aimed at assisting students who struggle with reading.
“I used to be a teacher and I enjoy working with kids,” Smith said. “I thought this would be a fun thing to do now that my daughter is in school. It’s very enjoyable.”
The district is looking for more volunteers like Smith.
Meredith Wojtkun, an intervention specialist at Hayes, said that it’s been difficult to get people to commit to three days per week.
But it’s a program that’s a proven success.
“Research shows that these kids are improving,” Wojtkun said. “It’s the one-on-one difference."
The students work with the volunteer instructors to work on phonics — the sounds of letters and how they fit into words.
“We don’t like to pull kids from their academic classes, so some of the kids come in during recess and some stay after school,” she said.
The tutors start each session with fluency passages, and then they identify areas that students need some extra help — and they read those over again.
One of the students Smith is working with is fifth-grader London Kitts to improve her reading ability.
Smith uses games as part of her lessons, and asks London questions based on a story they read together — they all help prepare her for tests she takes in class.
London comes for 45 minutes, even though she’s only required to spend 30 minutes each session.
“Whatever words she struggles with, we keep doing them,” Smith said. “London works very hard, so that makes it easy.”
London’s teachers have noted her progress.
“It helps me because we have some independent reading,” said London. “And we have some big words, but I can break them up. This is helping me read better.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for the Project More program is encouraged to call 216-529-4228.
“It’s a nice way to get the community involved in the school,” added Christine Gordillo, the spokeswoman for the Lakewood City Schools.