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Students volunteer for youth literacy initiative

Several Penn State Berks students enrolled in the Childhood and Early Education degree program have volunteered for the United Way’s new reading initiative called “Ready. Set. Read!,” a community program centered on one core mission: to ensure reading proficiency for students by the end of third grade. The initiative is a collaborative effort between the United Way of Berks County, the educational community, business, and community organizations.

The pilot volunteer tutoring program is currently underway in Reading and Muhlenberg school districts. Penn State Berks student volunteers, along with community volunteers, have been trained as tutors and are providing supplemental instruction to identified second graders. The tutors meet with second-grade students each week to read together.

Some of the Penn State students had personal reasons for volunteering for the program.

“The Ready. Set. Read! program serves students in the Reading School District, where Hispanics are the majority,” stated Leilani Nenadich. “As a Latina, I find it imperative to give back to the Latino community. I feel honored to be a part of such a program that will benefit our youth's reading proficiency.”

"I am extremely honored to be part of such a noble cause and help the youth of the Reading School District," commented student tutor Ryan Wendler.

"The program teaches me how to do one-on-one stuff with kids when I become a teacher," added Kaley Kinek, Penn State Berks student tutor.

A total of 16 Penn State Berks students volunteered for the initiative. They include:

Veronica Barbiero, Marlton, NJ;
Shakeia Barron, Newark, NJ;
Christine Lambert, Reading;
Amanda Reinert, Schuylkill Haven;

Jessica Saniga, Orwigsburg
Brittany Teague, Hershey
Katarina Zirkelbach, Telford

Kaley Kinek, Blandon

First-year Students
Colleen Byrd, Douglassville;
Kerry Guertin, Ottsville;
Angela Koval, Schnecksville;
Alexa Lipari, Dingmans Ferry;
Leilani Nenadich-Gonzalez, Philadelphia;
Mallory Pearson, Lower Gwynedd;
Alayna Snyder, Annville;
Ryan Wendler, Palmyra

"The education students at Penn State Berks who volunteer for this initiative have embraced this opportunity in many ways,” according to Toni Vanino, Instructor in Language/Literacy Education at Penn State Berks who coordinated the Penn State Berks student volunteers. “They truly value working with early learners on their literacy skills and understand the significance of giving to the community. These positive role models aspire to make a difference."

Local data based on recent PSSA scores show that over 25 percent of Berks County third graders are not reading proficiently. The goal of the program is for 90 percent of the county’s third-graders to reach reading proficiency by 2013.

According to United Way President Tammy White, reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is a proven indicator of academic and long-term success, benefitting students and the community alike.

Stella Leonti, United Way's Director of Education, said the initiative will focus on several areas to improve early-grade reading. Volunteers will work with families and caregivers, showing how they can help children understand the value of reading.

The Ready. Set. Read! program will employ a comprehensive and collaborative approach. "This is a crucial issue. We all have a stake in education, as it is the issue that drives the success of individuals, families, and ultimately our community. We all recognize when you improve education, you improve the community, and vice versa,” says Tammy White, president of United Way of Berks County.

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