By Leslie Rice Hart
The Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan offers literacy volunteer opportunities in which its trained volunteers focus on assisting elementary school children who are at-risk for reading failure. I have been a JCC Literacy Volunteer for three years and I find the program exceptional and rewarding. The JCC serves students from a cross-section of New York City’s multicultural and multilingual community who have been identified by their teachers and principals as needing extra assistance in reading. A number of the children targeted are English Language Learners, struggling with decoding, comprehension strategies, and vocabulary development. The JCC Literacy Programs address these weaknesses while children are in elementary school in order to prevent the unfortunate consequences of reading failure, such as, dropping out of school, chronic truancy and/or illegal absences from school, continued limited English-speaking abilities, and the potential inclination to participate in delinquent and criminal behavior. By offering reading and mentoring support to these students in the early grades, the JCC provides an excellent opportunity for them to read at or above their grade level, improve in all content areas, enjoy increased self-confidence, and experience a fulfilling and successful school career.
Over the past 15 years, the JCC Literacy Programs have proven to be successful and have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. The JCC offers its literacy volunteers an initial orientation and training, on-site supervision, and monthly training and feedback sessions under the guidance of a New York State certified reading specialist. Throughout the school year, the JCC reading specialist and volunteers work with classroom teachers regarding individual students and aim to coordinate volunteer support with the language arts curriculum used in the classroom.
The JCC in Manhattan’s Partners for Literacy currently offers its Gift of Literacy program in four public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (PS 75, PS 84, PS 163, and PS 165). In this program, more than 100 JCC volunteers tutor second grade students who need assistance with basic reading skills and comprehension strategies. These trained tutors meet with struggling readers after school on one-on-one basis twice each week, throughout the school year. A JCC reading specialist presents a full class lesson to the tutors and their students during the first half hour of each session and distributes lesson plans, reinforcement activities, and games for the tutor/tutee pairs to work on together for the remainder of the session. The program is based on the Orton-Gillingham method, a research-based multisensory phonics technique, recently adopted by the NYC Department of Education for use with special education students. Many former Gift of Literacy students and volunteers formed meaningful bonds during the program last year and have continued to work together during the students’ 3rd grade year as well.
This Spring, the JCC has forged a new partnership with The Good Dog Foundation. Therapy dogs attend the Gift of Literacy program at PS 75 as reading buddies for the 2nd graders. An Early Bird reading program is held in the PS 75 school library at 7:30 a.m. Students, who otherwise may not read for pleasure at home, are encouraged to listen and read along with books-on-tape, in order to practice their books so that they can read fluently and accurately to their nonjudgmental, loving buddy each week. The JCC is very proud to offer the only reading program of this kind in the New York City public schools.