When Kensington volunteer Barb Deradoorian walks into the Center for Success, a worst day can become the best day when kids come flooding to her for hugs. Known as the lady who gives “the best hugs,” she has been volunteering at CFS for four years.
“CFS is a place for encouragement for these kids,” she said. “The kids feel safe and comfortable. It’s exciting to see their growth and progress.”
Founded in 2013, the mission of the organization is to unite literacy and community to empower students in the journey of education. The kids who come to the center struggle with literacy on various levels. Barb said one student came without the ability to recognize letters, but left the program reading and gaining comprehension skills.
“My heart was broken for this young boy, but it finally clicked,” Barb said. “I was very emotional when I witness his breakthrough.
Literacy and Poverty
Kensington attender Adrianne Jackson experiences the relationship between literacy and poverty firsthand as the director of Pontiac’s Center for Success.
There is direct correlation between poverty and illiteracy. Limited exposure to reading materials, poor health, a scarcity of food, housing instability and unsafe environments are all additional challenges that children living in communities right in our midst often encounter.
Studies have shown that by age 5, half of children living in poverty are not academically or socially ready for school. These children often fall behind during critical formative years, which affects their performance in the classroom, social skills, health, and economic status later in life.
Kensington supports CFS by equipping and mobilizing volunteers passionate about helping under-resourced kids to volunteer with the after-school tutoring and mentoring program. Move Out Team volunteers work one-one-one with students to improve literacy levels.
“We just love our Kensington volunteers,” Adrianne said. “They have love oozing out of them and the kids know they are valued.”
Each after-school session includes transportation from school, a nourishing meal, enrichment activities, and a one-on-one individualized literacy block designed with each student’s unique literacy needs in mind.
Equally as important as building trusting relationships with the kids are the efforts aimed at improving reading scores on Michigan’s standardized test, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP.
The new state law in effect, commonly known as the Read by Grade 3 Law, says school districts must hold back third-graders who are more than one grade level behind in reading, or English Language Arts, as it’s called on M-STEP.
Just 12.2% of Pontiac School District third-graders scored proficiently in reading on the 2018-19 M-STEP, the lowest in Oakland County.
“Because our students are so far behind in their literacy scores, we partner with the schools and provide the extra resources outside of the school day to boost them to where they need to be,” Adrianne said.
Investing in the Program
Recently, Kensington awarded a Move Out grant to the Center for Success in Pontiac to fund new books for the library that reflect more diversity by having characters that are more representative of the students.
Adrianne said one of the key factors in literary success is for students to relate and connect with the characters they are reading about, and these new books will engage kids at a much higher level.
With these funds, CFS purchased enough books to keep each student’s reading time interesting, engaging, and relatable every day.
Each week students check out books from the library, which are sometimes the only books the kids have access to. According to the Heart of America foundation, 61 percent of families living in poverty do not have children’s books in their homes.
Over the course of the year, students who are a part of CFS advance two or more grade reading levels, on average.
“While we see vast improvements in literacy, we also see kids develop deep, meaningful relationships,” she said. “These students need social and emotional support.”
Adrianne said the perfect volunteer is anybody who loves kids and is willing to give an hour of their time a week. She has seen the most success when a student is paired with a mentor who invests in the student’s progress.
Learn more about the program at kensingtonchurch.org/moveout.