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By: Nate Morris, senior editor
Bright colors pop from the covers of books and material neatly organized around a small, bright classroom at Hawthorne Elementary. Each day, a small, dedicated team of staff members welcomes volunteers to the building who have come from across the city for one purpose: to read.
As the volunteers arrive and collect their easy-to-use curriculum, selected students are lead in from their classrooms to begin a lesson designed not simply to enhance their individual literacy skills, but truly to shape their entire future.
This is Reading Partners; a national organization which operates with the belief that as little as two hours of reading tutoring each week can empower young people and set them on a trajectory toward academic success.
National statistics indicate that a student who reads on grade level by the end of their third grade year is four times more likely to graduate from high school that a student who is not.
Currently, one in six children in Tulsa fall below that threshold.
Justin Harlan, Executive Director of Reading Partners, Tulsa, cautioned of a difficult road ahead without significant action.
“If we look down the road 10 to 15 years and we don’t fix this problem,” Harlan said “we are going to have a totally different city.”
To that end, Reading Partners is enacting a four year strategy to increase its impact on Tulsa students and improve their outcomes, while increasing its focus on training volunteers around equity and overcoming biases.
With 1,600 students served weekly, the Tulsa branch of Reading Partners is the largest in the nation – serving more students than Los Angeles, San Francisco or Washington, D.C.
“This commitment from our community members to serve students speaks to the spirit of Tulsa,” said Harlan.
As momentum builds, the organization is looking to bring in hundreds more volunteers in order to expand service to more than 2,000 students city-wide.
As Harlan connects with thousands of volunteers across the city, he notes that there is an overwhelming theme of gratitude and rejuvenation those volunteers experience from their 1-2 hour commitment with the organization.
“Because of these experiences, your eyes are opened up. The immense challenges we face as a city that can sometimes make you feel helpless now become something you feel passionate about,” he said.
The organization hopes that Tulsans of all backgrounds and prwill jump at this unique opportunity to take part in the critical work being done around educating our youth and enhancing the trajectory of our city.
“The future of Tulsa depends on us getting this right,” said Harlan.
Becoming a Reading Partners volunteer is simple, requiring a quick application process and background check as well as a one-hour orientation. Interested individuals can get connected in the following ways: