Reading buddies help kids through YMCA learning program

The Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program at the YMCA of Greater Nashua has had two successful summers of improving literacy skills for children in low-income communities.

As one of the pilot programs in 2015, and one of 29 states participating in this Y initiative last summer, the Y has seen firsthand the importance of keeping children engaged in reading during the summer and the benefits it has on their school year academics and social interactions.

Literacy has been a huge focus for the YMCA. National studies show that children in third grade who are reading below grade level are more susceptible to dropping out of high school, which will likely lead to lower-wage jobs, a higher propensity for substance abuse, incarceration and lower self-esteem.

The Y is helping to combat illiteracy with its Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program, which is based at Ledge Street School in Nashua. For six weeks this summer, 32 low-income first- and second-graders with deficiencies in reading participated in an intensive literacy program that used the Y’s national evidence-based curriculum – a combination of the four blocks model and engaging enrichment activities – to promote success and enrichment in the classroom and beyond.

At the Y, statistics from the post-assessment showed that 95 percent of the kids in the program increased their percentile rank on the STAR Assessment, used to evaluate students’ abilities and identify what they’ve already mastered and where they still struggle. First-graders gained more than a full year of reading progress in the six weeks of the program and second-graders gained two months of reading progress instead of losing the average 2.5 months to the standard "summer learning loss".

New this summer was the "reading buddies" program, which began as a way to engage some of the more reluctant readers. The site director, Rebecca Leary, reached out to a contact who was affiliated with the Merrimack High School football team, and through this process, she was able to get in touch with the head coach, Kip Jackson, who was excited to be able to give back to a program and organization with which he connected on a personal level.

"We asked to have some members of the football team come Tuesdays and Thursdays for our self-selected reading section of our day," Leary said. "Their responsibility was to simply be a warm smile for kids to read to and to read with.

"We were overwhelmed with the response from the kids and the students who came to help out. Additionally, the football players also stayed for an extra half hour every day to play with our students on the playground. It was a truly amazing experience, and the young men who volunteered their time were so polite and kind, and amazing role models for our students. We even had a few attend a field trip one day simply because they wanted to hang out with some of the kids.

"At the start of the football season, some of the players asked if there was a way they could get our kids out to their first home game. Coach Jackson reached out to Sarah Sutherland, the program director, and arranged for some of the kids to attend the game with their families. This is definitely a tradition that we are going to continue next year because of how successful it was. The kids were willing to put in the work and push themselves because it meant that they would get to spend an hour hanging out with their idols – the football players."

When you support "Achieving Our Goals Together," the Y’s effort to raise $100,000 from members, you help create new and better opportunities for programs such as the Summer Learning Loss Prevention. With your gift, the Y will serve even more kids in our community. You can donate at www.nmymca.org.

Submitted by YMCA of Greater Nashua