When you ask a teenager how they spent their summer, they may tell you a number of different things. Some may say they went to the beach, traveled, attended a summer camp or visited a fun attraction. A unique response from a high school student would be that they spent two hours each week for the past two months volunteering to help a young student become a better reader.
Emmie Rhoden, a rising sophomore at Wando High School, sacrificed two hours a week this summer to volunteer with Reading Partners at the Arthur Christopher Community Center, located downtown Charleston.
Reading Partners works with local school partners to identify students in the community that are six months or more behind their grade level in reading. They partner the students with trained volunteers to deliver individualized one-on-one tutoring sessions following a structured curriculum.
Rhoden said earlier this summer she started looking online for volunteer opportunities in the community. A volunteer website had a listing to become a reading influencer and since she loves to read, Rhoden clicked the link. The listing lead her to the Reading Partners website and she immediately decided to sign up.
"I just love reading so much and last summer I volunteered with kids. I just love working with kids so this was perfect," she said.
Rhoden said her mom is busy with work and can't drive her to a job, so she volunteers instead. Rhoden said she feels like volunteering is better than having a job in some ways because you feel like you're giving back to the community, which makes it worth it.
Rhoden filled out an application online and attended an orientation about Reading Partners.
"I was so excited because everyone there was just so welcoming and they told me how much fun I was going to have. And they were right, it was super fun," she said.
"This summer 93 volunteers, including 10 teenagers, joined us to tutor over 70 elementary and middle school aged students at the Arthur Christopher Community Center. Having teens involved in the program is great for the young students we serve," said Christine Messick, senior community engagement manager of Reading Partners South Carolina.
Messick explained that teens are excellent tutors because they can relate to students on a different level rather than some of the older tutors due to the fact they are closer in age.
"The teens also benefit from the sessions, gaining experience to help prepare them for the future. It's a win-win relationship," Messick said.
Rhoden reads with 9 and 10 year olds on Tuesday afternoons and 5 and 6 year olds on Thursday mornings.
"Reading is so important because it is the foundation of all subjects and you're going to have to know how to read for everything you do," Rhoden said.
Rhoden shared that her friends think it's really cool that she is volunteering with Reading Partners this summer. She wishes her friends could do it with her but explained most of them have jobs. She said she's going to find her friends that don't have summer jobs to come volunteer. She also encouraged any adult with a car to volunteer as much of their free time as possible to read with kids.
Rhoden said she enjoyed watching her students progress and grow throughout the summer. One highlight of her tutoring sessions were the hugs the students gave her when they left.
"You can tell the rest of their day is going to be good because they leave with a smile on their face and so do I," she said.
She said that the lessons the program gives tutors help her focus on her student's learning needs. The students sound out and point at words while reading to learn how to pronounce and spell words.
"When they learn how to read an interesting book or a complicated book and they figure out the questions I'm asking them and understand it; it's just super cool," Rhoden said.
The Reading Partners program is hard at work trying to combat a significant challenge. Reading proficiency.
"Only 36% of students in the U.S. are reading proficiently by the fourth grade. In South Carolina, it is worse. Only 33% of our students are reading proficiently by the fourth grade and for our most at risk students, those living in poverty, the rate is just 21%," Messick explains. "We know that if a student is not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, there is an 88% chance they will never catch up and they are four times more likely to drop out of school."
Rhoden explains that through her tutoring sessions over the summer, she feels as though she is preparing the young students for success in literacy. During sessions students write words in charts with definitions and she feels confident they'll use the words they're learning in real life and it will encourage them to read more.
Messick explained that Reading Partners aims to change the odds for these students with the one-on-one curriculum through the school year.
"The program is working. Ninety-one percent of our students met or exceeded their primary end of the year growth goal for the last three years, putting the South Carolina region at the top for performance among the thirteen regions across the country. In addition, a recent study conducted by Child Trends found that the program also improves the students’ social and emotional skills," Messick said.
Rhoden said she's looking forward to finding new volunteer opportunities during the school year. She is an active volunteer and member of Wando's Key Club, American Sign Language Club and Beach Clean Up Club. She hopes to return to tutor with Reading Partners again next summer.
"It's so much fun. Words can't even describe how much fun it is. The kids are just a blast and they're so fun to help educate and teach," she said.
Rhoden plans to attend College of Charleston after high school and become a real estate agent or therapist for kids.
To find out more information or sign up to become a Reading Partner, visit readingpartners.org or call 843-860-3915. All of the school selections are on the website as well as upcoming tutor orientation dates and locations. Reading Partners will continue to enroll new tutors through December.