Reading Assist helps about 1,000 students annually develop and build their reading skills.

Reading nonprofit helps 4th grader learn to love library

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Reading Assist helps about 1,000 students annually develop and build their reading skills.

Reading Assist helps about 1,000 students annually develop and build their reading skills.

In spring 2021, Ameilia Carrubba’s struggles with reading because of her dyslexia meant she shied away from books and reading.

Today, “she wants to read,” said her mom, Kelli Carruba. “She wants to go to the library and get a book out and she definitely has a much more positive attitude and pushes herself more when it comes to reading.”

The difference can be credited to Reading Assist,, a Wilmington nonprofit that provides year-round intensive tutoring services to at-risk children across Delaware with the most significant reading challenges.

The nonprofit has helped more than 1,000 First State students overcome learning loss incurred during uneven schooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amelia started working with Reading Assist when a Linden Hill Elementary teacher recommended she repeat the second grade or work with the nonprofit. Amelia’s parents picked the nonprofit.

Kelli said she saw immediate progress when Amelia started working with the organization in Summer 2021. 

“Before she wouldn’t even touch a book because she had a lot of anxiety built up towards reading,” Carrubba said. “Within a few weeks working with Reading Assist, by the time she started third grade, we saw dramatic improvements and now a year into it she’s become a much more confident reader.”

Now, Amelia is starting Gateway Charter as a fourth grader.

Amelia has been working one-on-one with a Reading Assist tutor twice a week in 45-minute sessions. 

How lessons improve reading

A lot of the lesson plans incorporate materials and instruction that is aligned with the science of reading, brain research that shows how students learn to read using phonics and more.

“She went through a lot of basic phonics and a lot of the letter sounds and breaking the words apart through decoding,” Carrubba said. “That allowed her to see and hear the sounds, and when she comes to a word, these practices help her sound it out and break it apart.”

Originally, Amelia was succeeding at reading single words, but was struggling to put those words into sentences and paragraphs. 

Another method used in Amerlia’s tutoring sessions is “drumming” words to the beat of each syllable.

“They would tap their fists and break it apart to hear each sound,” Carrubba said. “Instead of saying ‘cat,’ they would tap and emphasize every sound, so it sounded more like ‘kih-ah-tt.’”

The curriculum that Reading Assist uses is based on Acadience Learning tests, which focus on foundational reading skills.

“They’re a progressive set of assessments that start all the way at kindergarten,” said Caroline O’Neal, chief executive officer at Reading Assist. “We have benchmarks to measure progress, such as first sound fluency, the ability to recognize sounds and letters, and all the way up through being able to read fluently through something called oral reading fluency.”

Reading Assist sends about 100 tutors to 26 different schools in Delaware to help children who are struggling to learn.

Schools contract the organization, and then a teacher, principal or other school official will work  with Reading Assist to determine what students in the school could benefit from the program. 

During the school year, students typically have individual time with a tutor. 

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Most of the tutors during the school year are Americorps volunteers and have to earn a certain number of service hours each year. 

Because of this, O’Neal said that the tutors get involved with the school in many different ways to earn even more service hours. 

“It’s not unusual that they do other things in the school in their free time, even coaching a school  basketball team, for example,” O’Neal said. 

About 600 students participate during the school year, and 500 students participate in the summer programming.

“There’s a marginal amount of overlap between our school year and summer students,” O’Neal said. “It’s not as much as we’d like to see, though, and our goal is to create continuity between summer and fall.”

Reading Assist has a $3 million annual operating budget. Of that, about 25% is grant money from AmeriCorps,  25% from state grant and aid support, 30% from individual or foundation donations and grants, and 20% from schools that contract them. 

The nonprofit has tutors in seven charter schools as well as Appoquinimink, Christina, Colonial  and Red Clay school districts. Two to five tutors are sent to a school.

A typical lesson includes some type of routine review, or more practice and drills before moving on. 

Each lesson usually includes an introduction to a new concept, whether it’s a new vowel sound or letter set.

Each tutoring season also will include reading, whether the student is doing that aloud, or tutors are reading to the student, O’Neal said.

Those sessions help build vocabulary development and provide a challenge at the end of a tutoring session. 

Students are assessed weekly to monitor progress, with tutors looking for two things.

“We look for students to hit benchmarks on some of those foundational skills,” O’Neal said. “The other thing that we do is look at how much progress our students make compared to what Acadience Learning would expect a student to make in a given school year.”

The 600 students who participated during the 2021-22 academic year outpaced their expected growth by 200% on average, with some blowing away the expected growth by 600%. 

The 500 summer students excelled as well, with 87% of them showing growth in their reading ability after just four weeks of tutoring. 

Additionally, 90% of students involved with Reading Assist  are performing on grade level. 

Kelli would like Amelia to continue her Reading Assist tutoring during this school year and maybe the next.

“It’s made Amelia actually open her eyes and realize she can do this,” she said. “She’s gaining that confidence and realizing she doesn’t need to be reliant on something or someone to read to her. She does have the ability, and she knows now that when she tries, she can accomplish anything.”

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