Literacy program faces volunteer shortage

GREENFIELD — Struggling readers at a local elementary school have been turned away from a literacy program because of a shortage of volunteer tutors.

School officials are reaching out to the public, philanthropic organizations and area corporations, seeking up to 20 volunteers for the ReadUp program at J.B. Stephens Elementary School, which aids third-graders reading below grade level by pairing them with tutors three times a week for extra help.

Teachers had to tell the 20 students enrolled in the ReadUp program that it was canceled recently because only one volunteer showed up that day, said J.B. Stephens dean of students Amanda Bradford.

The volunteer shortage is an issue for the program across the region. The United Way of Central Indiana offers ReadUp in six counties; a quarter of students in the program statewide aren’t being served right now because of a lack of volunteers, Bradford said.

About 300 students from Weston, Harris and J.B. Stephens elementary schools have graduated from the program since its inception nearly 10 years ago, said Paula Jarrett, United Way of Central Indiana Hancock County area director.

Teachers say the benefits of the program are evident; 90 percent of the local participants have increased their test scores and reading skills, reaching grade level standards by graduation from the year-long program, organizers say.

“Third-graders really need these adults to help them become better readers,” Jarrett said. “Through third grade, students are learning to read, but in fourth grade, they are reading to learn. Kids who are behind can fall so far behind that they never catch up.”

The program aims to make reading more fun for students, who form bonds with their tutors over the course of the years. At J.B. Stephens, news the program had to be canceled one day last week came as a disappointment both to organizers and students.

Third-grader Shyann Rinner was one who was looking forward to the extra reading time.

“It’s fun because I like reading, and volunteers get to help me read, because I’m having trouble sometimes,” Shyann said.

Educators want to prevent that from happening ever again, not only because the third-grade participants were disappointed but also because there’s little time to waste to improve students’ reading scores before standardized tests are administered in the spring, Bradford said.

School officials have taken to social media to drum up interest in the program, stressing the benefits for both students and tutors, Bradford said.

“ReadUp gives (the children) an extra boost of confidence, and the volunteers really form a connection with the students,” she said.

Officials have also reached out to local high schools, as high school students often use the ReadUp program to accrue community service hours, Bradford said.

How to volunteer for ReadUp

J.B. Stephens Elementary School is seeking up to 20 volunteers to staff its ReadUp program for third-graders struggling to read at grade level.

ReadUp tutors meet with the children from 7:40 to 8:50 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the school, 1331 N. Blue Road in Greenfield. Volunteers are not required to tutor all three days each week.

Volunteers must pass a background check. To sign up, visit

Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or