I have started volunteering at Granger Elementary. Every Monday and Wednesday I spend 30 minutes with Juan and Leslie, helping them advance their reading skills. I just finished my first week, so I am by no means a volunteer reading professional…yet.
I was nervous the first day. Sure, I love to read and I think kids are a blast–but that doesn’t mean the kids will like me or I’ll be any good at helping them learn. It was a little awkward at first, until I realized the kids had some of the same nervous fears that I did. So, we just talked about pets and sports and did a lot of high-fives and knuckle bumps to celebrate the words they read correctly.
I figured after a while we would feel more comfortable around each other, but I was surprised that both kids greeted me on my second day like they had been waiting for me to arrive. We joked about the green slimy eels we read about in a book, and raced through word lists so we could get back to the chapter book to see what happened. There were more high-fives and knuckle bumps. I had just met them 2 days ago, and already Juan was bummed that I wasn’t going to be there again till Monday.
As I walked out the doors after an hour of volunteering, my mind was a tornado of thoughts. I wish I could bring everyone here for just 30 minutes. I think 30 minutes might just be enough time to demonstrate how important early learning is to student success. Juan and Leslie are in 3rd grade. They should be reading in class with their friends. They struggle with basic words and reading comprehension. They are good kids. Smart kids. There is no reason for them to have “special” classes, except that they didn’t have access to some basic help a few years back. They didn’t have support in preschool and kindergarten to get them on track. So here we are.
Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with these kids. But I wish I didn’t have to go. Actually, I know I wouldn’t have to be there if everyone supported private/public partnerships to fund high-quality preschool programs. Juan and Leslie are the kids that these programs would help. It would have given them the tools in kindergarten so that by the time they got to 3rd grade, they could be on track with their classmates.
Working for United Way of Salt Lake, I could tell you story after story about the kids in our neighborhoods. There are thousands of kids like Juan and Leslie in our communities. United Way of Salt Lake has made a promise to these kids and their families. It is a promise to find a way to make sure every kid gets a chance to succeed in school and life. It is important that not only one kid beat the odds stacked against them–but to change the odds entirely. That is a huge promise! And one I fully intend to keep. It’s not just an organizational promise. It is my promise.
If you would like to learn more about the United Way of Salt Lake Promise, please go to uw.org/ourpromise. To help support our efforts to fund high-quality preschool, please sign up for our Newsletter and Policy Matters. Join us to help change the odds and GIVE, ADVOCATE, or VOLUNTEER.