Tim Wright, 18, never imagined that he would enjoy reading to kids. But this year, the Immokalee High School senior began tutoring second-grade students through The Immokalee Foundation’s Immokalee Readers program and enjoys every minute of it.
The after-school program in Immokalee matches 37 high school-aged tutors with about 134 children from kindergarten through second grade to provide intensive and enjoyable reading lessons. The program is designed to complement the reading instruction students receive during their regular school day. It is one of many programs offered by The Immokalee Foundation to foster educational success.
Wright’s tutorial efforts have paid off in many ways, he said.
“I wasn’t the type of person to sit and read,” Wright said. “But since I’ve been reading with the kids it makes me want to read and share what I’ve read and talk about the books we want to read. These kids don’t really read at home so they can brush up on their reading skills here.”
“It’s a perfect program for these kids,” said Patricia Nunez, Immokalee Readers program manager.
The average reading level of a ninth grader is approximately fourth or fifth grade. The first significant test of reading is conducted in third grade, when testing reveals that Immokalee students are far behind the average reading level.
“Most of the kids don’t read at grade level,” Nunez said. “This program changes that. They read at grade level and many read one grade higher. They are so proud.”
There are academic benefits for the high school tutors as well. The tutors have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average to participate. “They have also shown improvements in overall reading proficiency and gain professional experience in the classroom,” Nunez said.
The reading program helps put all of the elementary students on the right academic path as well. Aligned with Sunshine State Standards, the program helps ensure that all students are reading at grade level by the third grade. Because many Immokalee students use other languages at home, the additional training in English-language usage is especially important.
“If they can’t read, they can’t excel in life,” Wright said. “Watching their reading scores increase is thrilling. They are comprehending what we are teaching.”
The young children also celebrate their success. During the holidays, the tutors hosted parties at three Immokalee elementary schools and gave each participant two books for their home libraries.
“At any other place, it’s just a book,” Nunez said. “But for these kids it’s not just a gift, it’s changing their future.”
Wright is also appreciative of his experience. His affiliation with the tutoring program and The Immokalee Foundation has increased his own confidence. He plans to pursue a degree in Web design at the University of South Florida.
“I feel encouraged,” Wright said. “They’ve helped me a lot. The Immokalee Foundation points me in the right direction. Being around these kids gives me a clear idea of what I want to do in life.”
The success of the program is established twice a year when Collier County Public Schools administers the FAIR reading test, a state-recognized test for younger students that evaluates reading readiness, comprehension and word recognition. Every year the children gain proficiency in all areas.
Immokalee Readers isn’t the only successful program sponsored by The Immokalee Foundation. Since 1991, the foundation has been creating pathways to success for Immokalee’s children through a variety of programs that focus on mentorship, after-school activities, college scholarships, the development of vocational skills and incentives for educational growth.
In 2009, The Immokalee Foundation served 2,700 children through its seven core programs: Take Stock in Children, Vocational Success, College Success, Direct Scholarships, The First Tee of Naples/Collier Program in Immokalee, Immokalee Readers and Community Grants.
Volunteers can help mentor the high school tutors and assist in the day-to-day operation of the program. You can also get involved by supporting a student for $500 per year.
* This article appears in April 1, 2010 edition of Naples Florida Weekly.