Reading Partners program pairs volunteers with Tulsa elementary school students struggling to read

TULSA -- More than 800 Tulsa Public Schools third-graders are at risk of being held back after failing the required reading test, according to preliminary results released by the Oklahoma Department of Education.

Administrators at Tulsa Public Schools are still looking through the data to determine who will get retained, but a few elementary schools hoped a tutoring program called Reading Partners would help bring up scores.

Once a week, Hillary Ciconna pulls Samaria from her second grade class at Tulsa's McClure Elementary to work on her reading skills. The school brings in 92 volunteers each week through the Reading Partners program to work with kids who need some more one-on-one attention with reading.

"I think they feel special when they get pulled out of class and get to have that one-on-one time with someone," Ciconna said.

"It's just kind of a partnership with the teachers," she added, "and hopefully they can see some success, and then it spurs it along in the classroom, and it all just works together."

The principal at McClure decided to offer the Reading Partners intervention program to second and third grade students this year. The teachers then selected 63 students from those two grades to work individually with volunteers to improve their literacy skills.

"Reading's just the key to success in so many aspects in life," Ciconna said.

When she first started working with Samaria, Ciconna says the second-grader struggled to identify all her letters and make the correct sounds.

"She can now identify all her letters and make letter sounds," she said. "She's learning some of the easy sight words. She can identify beginning and ending sounds in words, so we're starting to do some beginning reading, which is exciting."

Ciconna says it's very rewarding to see how much Samaria's confidence has grown.

"Now she's very excited to do the little worksheets that are in our packets, whereas at the beginning maybe she didn't want to do some of the activities because they were so difficult for her," she said. "But now that there's some ease with what she's doing, it gives her the confidence to want to do it and have fun with it."

Nine elementary schools in Tulsa now offer the Reading Partners program to their students, including Jackson, McClure, Anderson, Mitchell, Mark Twain, Sequoyah, Kendall-Whittier, Eugene Field and Cooper. The program will expand to 15 schools next year, with the ultimate goal of getting into 30.

Organizers hope to help the students find the fun in reading as well as get ready for the high-stakes reading test. Ciconna says it may be hard to see kids take these tests, but she feels pressure is just part of life.

"It's good for kids to kind of learn to deal with a little bit of that pressure now," she said, "because they're going to have different pressures like that in life."

If she keeps progressing as quickly as she did this school year, Ciconna says she is confident Samaria will pass the state's required reading test next year.

"It's been great to see her progress," she said. "We've got a long way to go, but we can get there."

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