Researchers have shown that inadequate reading skills prevent many students from graduating from high school, completing college and contributing in the competitive workplace. Evidence suggests students who struggle with literacy skills also battle to meet academic standards in subjects such as science and mathematics.

Five years ago a group of concerned Charleston citizens concluded an organized effort must be initiated to assist the school district regarding the improvement of our students’ reading and comprehension skills. Charleston Volunteers for Literacy (CVL) came into life with literacy improvement as its goal.

CVL initiated an early childhood literacy program called Book Buddies, which has come to play an important role in support of the Charleston County School District’s goal to significantly improve our community’s literacy skills and reduce high school dropout rates. We cannot afford to allow our children to possess inadequate reading skills.

Poor literacy levels will result in a workforce that will not be able to compete in global markets, will cost our community money and will rob the community’s most important resource, our children, of reaching their full potential. Men and women who can read adequately help their children learn to read, better manage family and community responsibilities and just experience the joy of reading. Students who enter the ninth grade with poor literacy aptitudes soon fall behind in all high school subjects and consequently struggle to graduate from high school.

Reading skills do not advance on their own. Investigations have shown students’ speaking ability often continues to develop, but not their reading skills. We must force this literacy needle to move forward.

The goal of Charleston Volunteers for Literacy is to increase vocabulary development, escalate reading fluency and heighten literacy comprehension in order to help our children develop reading skills required to be successful at the next level of their education. If a child is a poor reader at the end of the first grade, studies conclude there is an 88 percent probability the child will remain a poor reader at the end of the fourth grade, therefore increasing the child’s likelihood of dropping out of high school.

Through CVL’s Book Buddies program volunteers are organized and trained to work one on one with under-achieving students. The goal is for each child to be able to read at the appropriate grade level. These volunteers are guided by a qualified site coordinator, a competent full-time CVL employee trained in reading improvement.

Neither CVL’s site coordinators nor its volunteer tutors replace the classroom teacher. They help them fill in the missing pieces so children can more effectively learn in the classroom. The Book Buddies program provides children with individualized instruction, measures their progress and promotes their self-esteem through classroom achievement. Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley recently stated, “The Book Buddies program is an integral ‘bridging-the-gap’ piece of the literacy puzzle.”

During the 2011-2012 school year 97 percent of Book Buddies students increased reading skills by one grade level or more. The intense phonics-based scripted program prepared by the site coordinator utilizes twice-weekly volunteer tutoring sessions, which last approximately 45 minutes. In a recent volunteer survey with 123 respondents, 96.4 percent replied “yes” to the question, “Would you recommend Book Buddies volunteering to others?”

During the past three years CVL has expanded its Book Buddies program from three schools to eight. Our current goal is to triple to the number of students we serve from 100 to 300. But we need your help. In order to achieve this goal we must significantly increase our community volunteer tutors. If you could volunteer one or two hours a week, we need you.

Please visit our website at www.charlestonliteracy.org and offer your critical assistance.

Roger Jones

Board Chair

Charleston Volunteers for Literacy

Beaufain Street

Charleston