The positive impact of the new Vello reading program was written all over the face of Lazaro Simon-Whitman, a second-grader at Mountain View Elementary School, as he waited anxiously to meet his reading tutor last Friday morning.
Thanks to funding from the United Way of Washington County, Simon-Whitman has spent 30 minutes each week this semester reading to Shivam Patel on a video system similar to Skype. After Simon-Whitman finishes reading, Patel and Simon-Whitman discuss the story. The opportunity to meet Patel in person was enough to light up Simon-Whitman’s face with a broad smile.
“Once you get on there and actually read to them and talk, you actually get to meet them,” Simon-Whitman said. “You get to communicate with somebody.”
United Way of Washington County was able to raise $25,000, which allowed the organization to introduce Vello into 10 second-grade classrooms in our area – five at Mountain View and five more in elementary schools around Washington County. The tutors are volunteers from local businesses and civic groups looking to make a difference in the lives of youngsters, and the program is already paying dividends.
“Each student knows their Vello day,” said Marla Hyatt, a second-grade teacher at Mountain View. “They come in looking forward to it. Every student that has a reading tutor in Vello has been able to progress in their reading level. It has been very beneficial.”
Kristan Ginnings, the CEO of the United Way of Washington County, said the organization chose to target second graders because they are approaching a crucial crossroads of sorts in their academic careers.
“Third-grade reading proficiency is such a big benchmark,” Ginnings said. “Statistics show that if you’re not reading proficiently by the time you’re in third grade, you’re four times more likely to drop out of high school and 75 percent more likely to be incarcerated. We felt like we had an opportunity in second grade to get kids caught up to be reading proficiently by the time they reach third grade.”
With funding in place, the United Way needed volunteers in order to implement the program. Businesses like First Tennessee Bank, Ballad Health, Bell Helicopter, AT&T and Citi provided their employees with the opportunity to volunteer, and civic groups like the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and the ETSU Roan Scholar program encouraged their members to get involved as well.“Our team at First Tennessee Bank has been deeply impacted by the new Vello reading program at our local elementary school,” said Jenn Owen, a senior vice president at First Tennessee Bank. “Our team loves interacting with the students, encouraging their progress, and sharing in their joy with each new book.”
After getting to meet the students for the first time last Friday, Ginnings was excited about expanding the program to help students at other schools.
“It melts my heart, and it makes me want to have this in every second-grade classroom as soon as possible,” she said.
For more information on the Vello program or to find out about volunteer opportunities, please contact the United Way of Washington County office at (423) 220-1229.