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Schools Of Hope Improves Reading


Schools Of Hope Improves Reading

As you walk out the door, you look over your shoulder. You are leaving your high school for the very last time. However, this is far from a joyous occasion. After several years of struggling through school and not earning enough credits, you feel you have no choice except to drop out of school. For those students who are unable to read by 3rd grade, this is a more likely scenario than for students who were able to read proficiently by 3rd grade. 

United Way’s Schools of Hope aims to improve literacy and reading proficiency among third graders. Schools of Hope is an early grade reading initiative helping children build the critical reading skills needed to succeed in school and life. Through Schools of Hope, United Way recruits, trains, and places community volunteers in area schools. Our tutors work one-on-one with kindergarten through third grade students during the school day to supplement classroom learning.

Donald J. Hernandez’s study Double Jeopardy Overview: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation states, “About 16 percent of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.” This same study reveals statistics are worse for students living in poverty. Hernandez explains, “For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently, the proportion failing to graduate rose to 26%. For children who were poor, lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and not reading proficiently, the proportion jumped to 35%.”

Lack of reading proficiency in our area has caught the attention of many. In Sonoma County, only 39% of 3rd graders are reading proficiently. Furthermore, more than 75% of English Language Learners read below proficiency in Sonoma County.

United Way of the Wine Country has partnered with local organizations to address reading proficiency by pairing more than 500 members of the Sonoma County community as Schools of Hope tutors. Area organizations such as County of Sonoma, Keysight Technologies, Viavi Solutions, Medtronic, and the United States Coast Guard have provided Schools of Hope with financial assistance and/or volunteers at 29 schools throughout Sonoma County. 

Many things motivate volunteers to tutor for Schools of Hope. One volunteer wrote, “I love seeing the progress some kids make. It makes me feel useful as a disabled retiree. Creating relationships and watching kids who struggle work hard also feels very worthwhile. I love this program!” Another volunteer shared about the program, “I would have to say I do love that moment when your child is happy to see you and the first time when you realize what you have been doing with them is helping them get over their hurdles. It’s a great feeling.” Yet another tutor writes, “It is so rewarding. My little guy was moving along slowly but it looks like he is starting to move ahead. So satisfying.”

Schools of Hope is working to help improve literacy among students, and as we begin our seventh year of the program, United Way continues to measure student progress and engagement. Using statistical analysis and teacher feedback, we have found students who participated in Schools of Hope showed reading proficiency growth between 28% and 50% higher than non-Schools of Hope students who started with similar scores. According to teachers, students have also increased their confidence in reading. The reading achievement gap between Schools of Hope students and their peers is shrinking.

With the success and growth of Schools of Hope, it is becoming more and more crucial to match the program’s growth with volunteer recruitment. To continue to serve struggling students, we need 300 additional volunteers this fall. United Way is asking you to sign up for an orientation to learn what Schools of Hope is all about, and we are extremely grateful to be a part of a caring, active community with such passionate volunteers. Please join us and help students learn to read. Signing up is easy when you visit For questions in Sonoma County, please contact Emmanuel Moon at 707-528-4485 ext. 103 or