Literacy and math skills can be challenging for some of the youngest students in the community, but local organizers are hoping volunteers will step up to make a positive difference and help improve literacy in Champaign County.

The Unit 4 School District, Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation, Parkland College, YMCA, Champaign Community Coalition, WILL radio and television, Martin Hood and the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce are trying to recruit 250 volunteers for iRead iCount, a new literacy and math program that was piloted at four Champaign elementary schools earlier this spring.

The goal of iRead iCount is to provide additional support in reading (and eventually math) for students in kindergarten through third grade to help improve the skills and confidence needed to succeed.

“Studies show that students in kindergarten who are behind their peers will have a hard time catching up –and may continue to fall behind as they progress without additional supports.  The iRead iCount community outreach effort is building a network of caring adults who will help struggling students acquire and develop basic reading skills,” says Kelly Hill, Executive Director of Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation.

According to Champaign Unit 4 2018 PARCC Data, only 32 percent of 3rd grade students met or exceeded in reading on the state test and only 39 percent of 3rd grade students met or exceeded in math. Hill says from kindergarten until third grade children are learning how to read but from third grade on, children are reading to learn.

“Without basic reading skills, learning becomes very challenging,” says Hill.

The pilot program last spring, which had over 80 volunteers who spent an hour a week working one-on-one with kindergarten students on reading, resulted in a 73 percent improvement overall with letter identification. Those results inspired organizers to not only continue the program this fall, but expand it to include extra support for math as well.

Hill knows that getting 250 volunteers is no easy feat, but as a volunteer herself, she can attest to its benefits.

“If you’re looking for a meaningful way to give back, this is an opportunity to see the challenges our teachers are facing and helping narrow the gap for struggling students.  I know that my small effort with 3 or 4 kindergartners last spring made a difference in their reading skills, confidence and overall excitement about learning to read,” says Hill.

“This is a great way to invest in the students who will be our future citizens, employees and community leaders,” she adds. “All you have to do is maintain a steady and positive attitude.  The smiles on the student’s faces when you show up every week will tell you they appreciate your time and investment in them!”

Volunteers are provided training by Unit 4 teachers. Volunteers must commit to one hour a week and pass a background check. Program dates are September-December 2019 and January-May 2020.

For more information or to sign up to be a volunteer, go to iRead iCount – Champaign County Chamber of Commerce – IL, IL. The deadline to sign up is Sept. 5 for iRead and Sept. 20 for iCount.