Recruiting volunteers pays off for Salt Lake school

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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of grade schoolers jumped up and down on the playground, not just to stay warm but to celebrate the new wave of support from their neighborhood.

In the last several weeks, 20 people from the community of Indian Hills Elementary have signed up to become weekly tutors with the KSL's Read Today program. Few of them have children who actually attend the school.

Maicel Spotted Eagle comes twice a week after class at East High School.

"I was a former student at Indian Hills," she said. "I enjoy helping kids."

Casey Burke stays after his work day teaching P.E. and volunteers to help struggling readers. "It's really rewarding for me to see their progress," Burke said.

Recruiters even went door to door and found retired teachers and neighbors willing to help their local kids.

"It's a community awareness effort," said Read Today recruiter A.J. Franks. "It's to raise awareness that there are kids at local schools that need help reaching their reading level."

PTA Vice President Niki Evans has also worked to engage parents in the effort because reading is such a fundamental skill and a few dozen students needed one-on-one help.

Volunteers are Utah's greatest resource.

–LaDawn Stoddard

"They can come in and work with these students who are struggling in reading and help them in all subjects," she said.

The coordinator who oversees tutoring at Indian Hills has also seen a new sense of unity behind this shared purpose.

"I think it's really important to build a community," said AmeriCorps Coordinator Linsdai Gren. "I think this program is a really good way to do that."

At the start of the school year, Gov. Gary Herbert urged all Utahns to get involved in their neighborhood schools. One of his statewide goals is to get 90 percent of students reading at grade level.

Last year, of the approximately 3,200 students in the Read Today program, zero percent started the year reading on grade level. But with the help of a weekly tutor, 85 percent finished the year reading on grade level.

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If more Utah schools could replicate the support of Indian Hills, notes the state's volunteer director, thousands of Utah students could improve their scores and abilities.

"Volunteers are Utah's greatest resource," said LaDawn Stoddard, executive director of Utah's Commission on Volunteers. "I feel like we have a lot of people that don't know how they can help. It's important that there is a way to reach them and let them know where the need is."

For that reason, KSL's Read Today program has issued a statewide incentive to schools that can generate this kind of community reading support. Chopper 5 joined the celebration and added to the chill in the air by landing with a spray of snow. The school also received 1,000 books.


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