KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lead to Read KC, a nonprofit in Kansas City, Missouri, is making sure the city's youngest readers are fully equipped for life.
Lead to Read KC volunteers work one-on-one with students in Kansas City, Missouri, schools, specifically catering to first, second and third graders to make sure they build strong literacy skills.
According to Lead to Read KC’s Executive Director Pauly Hart, children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. 85% of teens involved in the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate as well, indicating a direct correlation.
“Kansas City has been struggling with third-grade proficiency for years,” said Hart.
Lead to Read KC volunteers serve about 1,000 kids and are now in 24 schools across the metro, with schools and classrooms on its waitlist.
Hart says corporate partnerships have helped the organization grow tremendously over the years. She believes much of the community is invested in the growth of their future workforce.
“These children are getting one more caring adult in their life who cares about them, who is interested in them, and who also serves as a window to the world for the children,” said Hart.
Austin Orme was celebrated as Lead to Read KC’s 1,000th volunteer at Center Elementary School on Thursday. He decided to get involved after seeing what one-on-one time could do for his two kids.
“You know it’s teaching, but it’s also bonding,” said Orme. “It feels good to know that the program has kind of taken off, and you know I was part of that success.”
Karen Prickett is the principal at Center Elementary School. She says their partnership with Lead to Read KC has been vital in bouncing back after the pandemic since students and staff faced huge setbacks from virtual learning and a lack of teachers.
Hart added that wearing masks in classrooms made it difficult for children to understand letter sounds and see how letters are pronounced.
“We already had quite a few students performing below grade level, and the pandemic directly impacted that,” said Prickett.
While the additional resources are important, their ultimate focus is on fostering genuine interest.
“We have a lot of students who are reluctant readers. They haven’t had good experiences with reading in the past, or it’s just not something they want to do. So Lead to Read has made students want to read and make it fun and exciting,” said Prickett.