Volunteers help Acadiana students improve their reading skills

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Donna Tolbert, a United Way Readers volunteer, and first grade six-year-old Jayden Walker read a book together on Wednesday afternoon at Alice Boucher Elementary School in Lafayette. The program is going to begin training for new volunteers soon.
Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Donna Tolbert, a United Way Readers volunteer, and first grade six-year-old Jayden Walker read a book together on Wednesday afternoon at Alice Boucher Elementary School in Lafayette. The program is going to begin training for new volunteers soon.

United Way program seeks volunteers

At 6 years old, Chance Leblanc knows the value of reading.

“It will help you get smarter,” the first grade Alice Boucher Elementary student said.

Weekly reading dates with United Way of Acadiana volunteer D’Angelo Davis helped Chance become a “high top reader.”

“It means you can read and get 100s,” Chance said proudly.

Chance and about 30 other Alice Boucher first- and second-grade students receive help from United Way Readers, volunteers who visit the school weekly to work with students who are right on the “bubble” when it comes to their reading skills, said Rose Marcel, the school’s instructional strategist.

“They’re not above average, but are right in the middle, so with help they can get where they need to be,” Marcel said.

The United Way Readers program partners volunteers with students who can benefit from reading practice during the school day. The volunteers read with the student at least once a week for up to an hour over a 10-week period. Last year, 341 United Way Readers worked with 449 students in 21 schools in Acadia, Lafayette and St. Martin parishes.

A training for interested volunteers is planned Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the United Way of Acadiana office, 215 E. Pinhook Road.

“United Way Readers make a difference by helping to put students on the path toward academic success,” Keler Williams, director of volunteer mobilization, said in a news release. “When students miss an opportunity to read at grade level by fourth grade, they are four times more likely to not graduate on time, and this program helps by offering extra reading practice.”

Volunteer Donna Tolbert became a United Way Reader last year and previously volunteered at Ridge Elementary. Since October, she’s met with two Boucher students. The trio meet in the school’s library to read books together.

“I enjoy every moment of it,” Tolbert said. “Just to sit and listen to them read is rewarding.”

Last week, first-grader Jayden Walker read aloud to Tolbert about Mr. Small’s encounter with a dragonfly in the land of PeeWee.

Together, they sounded out words that Jayden didn’t recognize: “trusty” and “toothpick.” As he continued reading, she jotted down onto a notebook page the words that gave him pause, so they could review them after Mr. Small’s adventure.

At the end of each page, Tolbert gave Jayden a high-five.

“You got that right!” she told the grinning 6-year-old.

Working with Chance and second-grader Ashton Helaire is gratifying, said Davis, who studies marketing and industrial design at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Both boys enjoy reading.

“You get to know more things that you didn’t know before,” said Ashton. “If I get stuck on a word, he helps me.”

Marcel said the program has been academically and socially beneficial for the Boucher students.

“We’ve seen some improvement. They’re reading more and they’re more confident when they read,” Marcel said, stopping to watch one of the young readers grin widely. The little girl proudly showed volunteer Tolbert the gap in her front row of teeth, signaling a newly missed tooth.

“That’s part of it, too,” Marcel said. “They’re building a special bond while improving their academics.”