SMART Reading program pivots to continue delivering critical services amidst pandemic
A critical program that has delivered results in boosting children's reading skills in early education grade levels is adapting its services on account of the pandemic to Central Oregon schools this fall.
Children's literacy nonprofit SMART Reading is adapting their services to meet the changing literacy needs of Oregon's children, families and communities. Included in the long list of clients, SMART Reading has served Crooked River Elementary for more than 25 years. It has also served Prineville and Ochoco Head Start programs through NeighborImpact.
SMART Reading is a children's literacy nonprofit that serves kids in Oregon's highest need schools with two ingredients critical for literacy and learning success: one-on-one reading time and access to books. They mobilize volunteers to read with pre-kindergarten through third-grade children, building confidence, literacy skills and a love of reading.
The program provides a meaningful way for Oregonians to make a direct impact in their communities. Since 1992, SMART staff has paired more than 144,000 volunteers to read with 233,000 children and has put 3 million books in the homes of the children they serve.
While SMART Reading staff typically spends the summer preparing to bring more than 5,000 community volunteers into schools for one-on-one reading sessions with more than 11,000 pre-K through third-grade students across Oregon, physical distancing and other pandemic-related considerations make in-person reading impossible in the 2020-21 school year.
"We're committed to working with our school and community partners to continue ensuring young readers in Central Oregon have the support they need to become strong, confident readers," commented Jennifer Zardinejad, SMART's Central Area manager.
In response to the changing landscape, the organization has developed two new delivery models that align with safety guidelines from local school districts and the Oregon Department of Education.
The first delivery model is book distribution, and educators, researchers and families affirm that access to books is a crucial way to support children's literacy. SMART Reading distributed more than 33,000 books after schools closed in March, and the organization is building upon those learnings to expand book distribution in 2020-21. Students will continue to have access to new, high-quality, diverse titles from a variety of book publishers that align with SMART's guidelines.
"Will be doing book distribution and serving all of the classes in the selected grade," indicated Zardinejad, in regard to Crooked River Elementary.
She added that it will probably be the entire kindergarten, but that decision has not been finalized yet. Prineville and Ochoco Head Start programs will be getting book distribution and family engagement resources for all of their classes.
The other delivery model involves virtual reading sessions, both live and pre-recorded, where volunteers can read books with children and help foster a love of reading. The organization is working on the implementation details, factoring in legalities and security considerations, and incorporating feedback along the way from educators and families. Zardinejad said that they have not moved forward on the virtual reading piece because principals are still getting their bearings this year.
Research suggests that students will enter the 2020-21 school year with only two-thirds of the typical gains in reading from the previous year.
"With students facing staggering learning losses, reading support will be more critical than ever. This could have a profound, long-term impact on kids and communities," indicated Zardinejad. "As we have been for nearly 30 years, SMART Reading is poised to continue empowering kids for reading and learning success through providing access to books for students to keep and reading practice."
The SMART Reading program plans to engage current volunteers in supporting both program delivery models but is not currently seeking new volunteers. The organization encourages those interested in supporting young readers to help raise awareness about the importance of this work or consider making a financial gift to help provide books and virtual reading opportunities.
To learn more about SMART Reading's plans for 2020-21, visit www.SMARTReading.org/covid-19-program-adaptations.
Visit www.SMARTReading.org or call 877-598-4633 to learn more about SMART.
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