GREENFIELD — Kirsten Anderson remembers when reading was a frustrating activity for her son, Owen.
He could say the words on the page in front of him, but he couldn’t comprehend the message.
Today, the 8-year-old Weston Elementary School student has come a long way. Thursday, he and 19 of his classmates graduated from ReadUP, a United Way program aimed at improving the skills of struggling readers.
Since Owen began meeting with a tutor last fall, his text comprehension has improved significantly, and reading has become something he enjoys, Anderson said.
“He does actually like to read,” she said. “He gets excited.”
ReadUP pairs 800 volunteers with 500 students in 30 schools throughout central Indiana. The program started in 2009 in Indianapolis.
ReadUP came to Greenfield five years ago, where it has since expanded to serve 60 students at three schools: J.B. Stephens, Harris and Weston elementaries. All three schools had breakfasts this week to honor the students and their tutors.
Thursday, Weston Principal Steve Burt stood before the group of young graduates to congratulate them on their success in the program.
The one-on-one interaction with ReadUP tutors, who meet weekly with their students, builds confidence in those who are struggling to recognize words or understand what they’ve read, Burt said.
“It’s powerful, somebody else that’s not your parent or your teacher taking an interest in you,” he said.
The program, in which students read with their tutors at the start of school three days a week, has been well-received by teachers and parents alike, said Susan Reinhart, United Way program manager for ReadUP.
“Most of the kids come to the program hating to read,” she said. “It’s always great to hear the great success stories.”
In recent years, educators have had a means for testing the program’s success – student performance on IREAD-3, a high-stakes reading test for third-graders that determines whether they move on to fourth grade.
This year, 59 of the 60 local ReadUP students passed IREAD-3.
Greenfield-Central’s IREAD scores, corporationwide, exceeded the state average, and that’s something worth celebrating, Assistant Superintendent Ann Vail told the crowd gathered Thursday at Weston.
Third grade is often targeted because educators find it marks the stage when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
“It is the time when we establish the patterns for learning,” Vail said.
Anderson remembers how worked up her son got over the prospects of taking IREAD. He knew that without improvement, he could be retained.
“He panicked,” she said. “He was sick to his stomach over the whole thing.”
But Owen found he had less to worry about as his reading skills improved over the course of the year.
“And when I passed IREAD, I was like, ‘Yeah!’ I screamed,” Owen said.
Tutor Lisa Champion worked with Owen and said it was rewarding to watch his progress from week to week.
“I saw a remarkable difference,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, they’re hesitant … and then, as time went on, … his comprehension, it was fantastic. At the end of the year, we just went nonstop.”
And the success was addicting for the young learner.
“ReadUP is awesome,” Owen said. “I just don’t know what I’m gonna do without it.”
United Way officials are already recruiting ReadUP volunteers for the 2014-2015 school year. The program runs September through May at J.B. Stephens, Weston and Harris elementary schools. For more information on volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.