GVSU teaches students to read

Stephanie Brzezinski

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The Schools of Hope program, a service of the Heart of West Michigan United Way, is seeking
volunteers from Grand Valley State University to help local first- through third-grade students learn to
read at a training session on Oct. 10.

Misti Stanton, program manager for Schools of Hope, said it is a direct-service program that allows
struggling readers to connect with a tutor, who will serve as a mentor for the child. Stanton added that
the program also partners with the Literacy Center of West Michigan to increase literacy levels for both
the students and their parents.

“Schools of Hope’s goal is to bring first- through third-grade students up to grade level,” she said.
“Up to third grade, students are learning to read. After third grade, they are reading to learn. If
students aren’t strong readers by third grade, how can they learn to their full potential?”

In West Michigan, low literacy rates are a problem that Schools of Hope is trying to curb.The 2011-
2012 MEAP scores indicated that 50 percent of Grand Rapids students, 54 percent of Godfrey-Lee
students and 39 percent of Godwin Heights students were partially proficient or not proficient in

The Schools of Hope program is looking for volunteers to read for 30 minutes each week to first-
through third-grade students in the Grand Rapids, Cedar Springs, Godfrey-Lee and Godwin Heights

The students aren’t the only ones to benefit, though.

The partnership between GVSU and United Way is important “because United Way does so much for
the community, and Grand Valley wants to give back to the community,” said Sue Sloop, work life
consultant at the GVSU Health and Wellness Center.

Sloop said GVSU has provided more than 600 student, faculty and staff volunteers for Schools of Hope
since the university began promoting the United Way program six years ago. She added that
community members can also volunteer, but GVSU mainly focuses on encouraging its campus
community to participate.

“It is an early intervention,” Sloop said. “If (students) read well at third grade, then they can improve
their whole education experience.”

Students can go up anywhere from one to three reading grade-levels in a year with help from the
Schools of Hope program, she said, mentioning that having someone read to a child just once per
week provides enough consistency to improve their reading level and their overall performance in

Stanton said the partnership with GVSU has been helpful because it is “ensuring Schools of Hope
programs the supplies necessary to operate and supplying volunteer tutors, many of whom are
studying education.”

Volunteers do not need to be education students, though, she said. They can be high school students,
parents and anyone else who is interested. A background check is required before volunteers can
tutor in area schools.

Stanton said the Heart of West Michigan United Way agency is mainly a fundraising organization that
distributes funds to its partner organizations, especially for health, income and educational programs.
The agency also houses a volunteer center where community members can get help finding volunteer
opportunities in the area.

Stanton also emphasized the importance of volunteering in the community. She said it can help “build
experience, skills, résumés and networks,” and also helps build relationships.

Sloop urged people to get involved and volunteer because it not only “improves your outlook on life,”
but also it helps people feel better about themselves.

“Volunteering is great for emotional health,” she said. “People contribute to the community and help
make Grand Rapids a better place to live.”

The Schools of Hope volunteer training session will run from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 in 2201 Kirkhof

For more information about the Heart of West Michigan United Way and Schools of Hope, visit
http://www.hwmuw.org/. For more information about volunteering, contact Sue Sloop at
[email protected]

[email protected]