Program that helps kids read wins STAR Award

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Photo of Brenda .

Case-Parris

KALAMAZOO—A program offered through Western Michigan University that helps young children improve their reading skills has been saluted with a STAR Award.

The award was presented at an April 24 ceremony in Kalamazoo's Chenery Auditorium. Now in its 28th year, the STAR Awards are a partnership between Volunteer Kalamazoo and MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette to honor outstanding volunteers in Southwest Michigan.

WMU students were recognized in the College Volunteer Group category for going beyond the call of duty in their volunteer efforts.

"They go beyond their scheduled shift to offer additional help to students," says Carly Wiggins, director of volunteer services for Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, in an MLive/Gazette article. "Over Western's spring break, they will still come in to meet with students. Their commitment to the kids is really admirable."

That dedication is what prompted Wiggins to nominate the group for the award.

Reading and more

The award recognizes WMU students who are part of the America Reads Program, an effort to increase reading proficiency among America's youth. The program originated with the administration of President Bill Clinton and the launching of the America Reads Challenge. Its goal was to have all children reading well and independently by the end of elementary school.

WMU's America Reads Program is offered through Career and Student Employment Services and Financial Aid. A group of a dozen tutors works in local elementary schools, each putting in an average of seven hours a week. Tutors usually work with one teacher and one group of students throughout the school year.

"That consistency is huge to build relationships, rapport and trust," Brenda Case-Parris, program coordinator, tells MLive.

In addition to helping children develop better reading skills, the student volunteers work with teachers and staff to develop educational activities related to reading and demonstrate the value and joy of learning and model positive college experiences.

"I make sure tutors know about the Kalamazoo Promise," Case-Parris says. "They are tutoring kids to not only be successful through school, but to go on and take advantage of the Promise."

Case-Parris says there's been no stigma attached to having a tutor.

"It's really beautiful because what I've seen over the years is that everybody wants their own tutor," she says. "It's not only helping improve reading skills, but their own self-perception. They have a more positive attitude about themselves and a consistent relationship they can count on."

The student volunteers are often studying education, social work or family sciences at WMU and benefit from the hands-on experience. After volunteering for a full academic year, the majority return to work with children for another semester, Case-Parris adds.

"Once I bring people in and they start to see the impact they're having on the children's reading skills and their lives, they're sold," she says. "They are getting immediate gratification from the work they're doing."