Enter the doors of Mt. Pleasant Elementary on a Tuesday or Thursday morning and you are likely to hear 14 excited children racing to the library for one of their favorite activities of the day, reading with their Wasatch Academy high school buddies.
One of the most pressing challenges schools face is ensuring that all children become competent readers. Young children who experience problems in reading quickly fall behind their more skilled classmates. To support those who struggle with reading, Utah’s Student Tutoring Achievement for Reading (STAR) program connects elementary students with volunteer tutors to practice reading skills. Under the direction of Ellen Parker, a Wasatch Academy Academic Coaching Coordinator, and Billi Larsen, a Wasatch Academy alum and AmeriCorp STAR Program Representative, WA students are stepping up to the task to empower young children in finding their passion for reading. The WA students meet one-on-one with students, kindergarten to sixth grade, whose reading skills are below grade level. Together they practice phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
Still in its first year of creation, the program started in the fall of 2017 with just seven student volunteers. That number has since increased to 14 students that regularly tutor. The overall STAR program serves 60 elementary students through its partnerships with Wasatch Academy, North Sanpete High School, and local volunteers.
Parker became passionate about building this program with Larsen after witnessing her own children’s growth through reading. “I attribute the success of my own children to their early enthusiasm for reading,” says Parker.
The STAR program has not only benefited the young students struggling with their reading but has also created a masterful effect on the students that tutor. For senior Benji Drolette, the program has created experiences that he would not have expected. “As an only child, I was scared to work with young students. My first day I was really nervous but now I really like it. I have learned so much about how to work with younger kids,” said Drolette.
Currently, WA students read to younger students two days a week. Parker hopes by next year that the program will expand to 40 students, meeting alternately four days a week at the elementary school. Larsen also hopes to see the program continue to expand and serve all students that need reading support. “Our goal is for every child in the state of Utah to be a fluent reader,” Larsen said. “The STAR Tutoring Program is a vehicle to assist children with their reading, and caring volunteer tutors are the key.”