As the saying goes, one book, one pen, one child, one teacher can change the world.
The Augustine Literacy Project in Chapel Hill is working to make that happen.
Since 1994, the project has worked to improve the reading, writing and spelling abilities of low-income children and teens who struggle with literacy skills or issues connected with learning English as a second language. It was founded by Linda McDonough with the support of the rector and vestry of the Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill.
Volunteer tutors fan out to four counties and work one-on-one with children using teaching methods proven to work with children in need, especially those who have not learned to read because of poverty – which often includes a lack of exposure to printed materials and a rich vocabulary at home.
“We do more than help with homework or read aloud,” said Lori Easterlin, a longtime tutor who took over as executive director this fall.
“Our training is research-based methodology that is structured and intensive. We actually teach people to read,” she said. “We prepare our trainees to tutor a child who a school recommends to us, and who qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch.
The tutor-child relationship, which generally begins in second grade, can last for years and be a nurturing force for kids in need. The teaching methodology focuses on phonics, phonemic awareness (understanding that sounds and words go together), fluency (reading without effort) and, finally, overall comprehension – understanding the real meaning of the words, not just the ability to read the word itself.
“We don’t teach to any test,” Easterlin said. “We lay the foundation for a student to be able to go through the years of tutoring and then be able to work the meaning out on their own.”
The method appears to be paying off: In 2015, those in the program showed almost a full grade-level improvement in spelling, fluency and comprehension, Easterlin said.
ALP tutors around 300 students each year in Orange, Durham, Wake and Chatham – and now can boast of chapters operating in 17 cities in four states. Volunteer tutors are always welcome. ALP offers two major tutor trainings per year. On average, 95 tutors are trained each year.
The project’s annual revenue – their 2016 budget was $250,000 – comes from individual donations, grants from foundations, local family funds, and civic groups. The money pays for teaching materials and scholarships. Even small donations can help, Easterlin said. A $25 donation buys a training manual for a tutor; $50 covers a set of reading books for students; $300 buys training materials.
The project attained charitable nonprofit tax status this year, so donations are now deductible, she said.
To ALP, success can be “as simple as tutoring an ESL student who lives in a home where English isn’t spoken, or working with a second grader who just doesn’t understand, then suddenly gets it and a light goes on,” Easterlin says.
“The joy and satisfaction they have in understanding that these letters and sounds mean something make a world of difference.”
Augustine Literacy Project
200 Hayes Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Contact: Ele Ross, 919-408-0798
Description: Augustine Literacy Project is celebrating 21 years of improving the reading, writing and spelling skills of low-income children in grades K-12 who struggle with literacy by providing free, long-term, one-to-one instruction from highly trained volunteer tutors. Tutors receive 70 hours of training and are supported by ALP staff. Upon satisfactory completion of the training, ALP tutors commit to teach 60 pro bono lessons to a low-income struggling reader in the school or after-school program of their choice. Tutoring normally takes place twice a week at the child’s school with the child’s classroom teacher and the tutor working out a mutually agreeable schedule. Augustine tutoring is effective whether reading difficulties are predicated on learning differences, ESL issues or poverty.
Donations needed: Each donation received will directly support the ALP resource library for tutors and tutor trainings.
Volunteers needed: ALP maintains a long list of students waiting for ALP tutoring. We welcome volunteers who make the commitment to participate in our training, and to provide free tutoring to low-income children and teens who are below grade level in reading, writing or spelling. Our tutors come from varied backgrounds; teaching experience is not required. All tutors must undergo a background check. ALP tutors commit to teach 60 pro bono lessons to a low-income struggling reader in the school or after-school program of their choice. Tutoring normally takes place at least twice a week and lessons last 45 minutes.
$10 would buy: A reader for the tutor resource library.
$20 would buy: Materials for teaching games for tutors to use in lessons, or a student workbook.
$50 would buy: Support for tutor training expenses.