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Posted April 11, 2017

Literacy Mentoring Program Making a Difference

All second graders participating in the Manzano Mesa program are expected to be reading at or above grade level when they start the third grade.

Portable 1 at Manzano Mesa Elementary School buzzes with energy between 1-2 p.m. four days a week as a dozen community volunteers sit down to read with two dozen first and second graders.

Manzano Mesa Principal Peggy Candelaria and literacy specialist Kirsten Sanchez are among the Best of Class who will be recognized at the APS Education Foundation's inaugural Gold Bar Gala on April 21.

While there are lots of smiles and giggles, this is serious business. The goal of the Community Literacy Mentoring Program is to help all participants read at or above grade level before starting the third grade.

It's working.

Mentor Coordinator Kirsten Sanchez, who carefully tracks student progress, says every student has improved several reading levels so far this year, and the second graders are on track to be reading at or above grade level when they enter the third grade.

Patterned after a successful community school initiative in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Manzano Mesa program began as a pilot in 2015, targeting second graders who weren't reading at grade level but who didn't qualify for intervention.

"These are the bubble kids who a lot of times fall through the cracks. With a little extra support, we can keep them from falling," said Principal Peggy Candelaria who helped create the program at Manzano Mesa.

Early results were promising, so the program continued and then, thanks to a grant from the APS Education Foundation, was expanded to included first graders and about 50 mentors this school year.

Most of the mentors spend about an hour a week volunteering to read with the students, a half an hour with the second graders immediately followed by a half an hour with the first graders. The students take part in the program four days a week, which means two extra hours of guided reading. It also means they often end up reading with four different people each week.

"Every mentor has a unique relationship with the students. There is a variety of personalities and histories and experiences that they are sharing," Sanchez said. "It's definitely good for academics, but it's so much more than that. The students have role models from the community sitting next to them, taking the time out of their days to help them."

The mentors are doctors, scientists, retired teachers, grandparents and college students who are trained before they begin working with the children. About a third of them come from nearby Sandia National Laboratories.

Thanks to the Foundation's grant, Sanchez said students also are able to take books home, so they can read at their level in the evenings with their families. The grant, called the Excellence Award, helps the program reach out to parents by hosting open houses where they not only learned about the program but also get tips for helping their children read.

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