ISBE Chairman Meeks Challenges ESL Community to Find a Reading Mentor for Every Third-Grader

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Read to SucceedReading Challenge ProgramNeeded:  489 adult volunteers to listen and help East St. Louis third-graders read from 10 a.m. to noon for six weeks.Challenge timeline: Saturdays, April 11 through May 16, 2015.To volunteer: Visit a reading location or fill out a volunteer form at Volunteer site coordinator orientation: 10 a.m. to noon April 8 at the East St. Louis Board of Education building.

Six-week challenge begins April 11

East St. Louis — Illinois State Board of Education Chairman James Meeks challenged the East St. Louis community to volunteer their Saturday mornings reading with third-graders to improve the students’ skills and prepare them for academic success. The “Read to Succeed” challenge begins Saturday, April 11, and will run for six consecutive Saturdays through May 16.

“Studies have long shown that students who are not reading proficiently by third grade are at risk of not graduating high school,” Chairman Meeks said. “Many volunteers have already come together to support this district and I want to challenge more people to step up and help children at this critical age. We are asking for just two hours a week for six weeks, but hoping that the experience extends beyond this challenge.”

A 2011 report showed that a student who can’t read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate by the age of 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. When adding poverty to the scenario, a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient and wealthier reading peer.

Studies have long documented the link between reading proficiency and other outcomes as well as the difference in lifetime earnings between high school dropouts and graduates. Another 2011 study found high school dropouts in Illinois will earn $595,000 in their lifetime while high school graduates’ lifetime earnings are $1,066,000 – a difference of $471,000.

In order to meet the State Board Chairman’s challenge, East St. Louis District 189 and the local faith community are collaborating to develop and implement the reading mentorship program. The Read to Succeed program needs 489 volunteer mentors to work one-on-one with the district’s third-graders at schools from 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday, April 11 through May 16.  There will be a volunteer site coordinator orientation from 10 a.m. to noon April 8 at the East St. Louis District 189 Board offices, 1005 State St. Volunteers will receive their assigned reading locations from a site coordinator.

District 189 Superintendent Art Culver said staff will test students on their reading proficiency through the Northwest Evaluation Association assessments, or NWEA, before and after the six-week challenge.

“We’re eager to see our community meet and surpass this challenge,” Superintendent Culver said. “We already have some wonderful volunteers and we’re excited to increase those numbers and improve our reading levels.”

The Illinois State Board of Education took authority of the East St. Louis School District 189 in 2013 and subsequently named Superintendent Culver to lead the district with the school district board and a Financial Oversight Panel.

East St. Louis Senior High School has increased its four-year graduation rate by 10.2 percent, going from 62.8 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2014. As of February 2015, all 12th-graders at the high school have applied to at least four colleges, the military or a trade school, a 50 percent increase compared to last year. Ninety percent have been accepted to a two-or four-year college.  Enrollment in Advanced Placement classes has jumped from 30 students in 2011-12 to 274 students this school year. East St. Louis seniors have earned $2.4 million in academic scholarships.

“We are extremely proud to be a part of this initiative,” said Pastor Kendall L. Granger of New Life Community Church in East St. Louis. “Our church has partnered with the district and many of the organizations represented on a number of projects in the past and we look forward to doing so again. To see our community come together for the benefit of our children is great.”

There are several ways to volunteer as a mentor:

  • Fill out an online volunteer form at and submit the confirmation email to KMA Certified Testing, 6400 W. Main St., 1A in Belleville;
  • Download a volunteer form at and give it to a site coordinator at one of the reading locations or

visit one of the reading site locations (listed below), pick up a form and submit it to a site coordinator.

For questions about the volunteer process, contact District 189 Director of Public Information and Community Relations Kim Roberson at

Read to Succeed Saturday morning locations:

New Life Community Church                                                     Katie Wright Elementary

Trinity Outreach Center                                                            Jackie Joyner Kersee Center

Mt. Sinai Church                                                                       Mary Brown Center

Private Matherson Center                                                          Ernest Smith Community Center

John D. Shields (Griffin Center)                                                Orr Weathers (Griffin Center)

Gompers (Christian Activity Center)                                          Roosevelt (Griffin Center)

Morrison School (Sunshine Cultural Arts Center)

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