New Haven Reads, founded to “share the joy and power of reading,” increases the literacy skills of children to empower their academic success by providing individually tailored one-on-one after-school tutoring, educational family support, and a community book bank, all at no cost to participants.
Christine Alexander, a local champion of literacy, founded New Haven Reads in 2001 as a free community book bank. In 2002, a mother who was home-schooling her children asked Chris for help teaching her family to read. Chris took on the challenge, drawing in volunteers from the community and starting the New Haven Reads tutoring program. Over time, Chris’ energy and vision and the success of the program attracted an increasing number of volunteers, partners and students.
Our approach is to bring high-quality, research-based programs to our students and their families. Our programs have grown to include a pre-k and kindergarten program for our youngest students and an SAT prep class to support our older students’ dreams of college. We see the importance of strong mentoring relationships between tutor and student. Our focus is not only on the student but also his or her family and we provide parent/child workshops.
Top accomplishments from the last year
Top Goals for the current year
Connecticut has the nation’s largest achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Almost a third of New Haven children live in poverty. Only 28% of New Haven third graders read at or above goal (grade level) according to 2013 CMT standardized test scores. Of the students at New Haven Reads, 79% come from households with low, very low, or extremely low incomes. These are the students who are most at risk of under-performing academically.
In this context, New Haven Reads focuses on:
Together, we are building a community of readers in New Haven.
It is a huge honor for me to serve as the Board Chair at New Haven Reads, a vibrant institution within our city that has a reach and an impact that far exceeds our size. Our mission is to share the power and joy of reading, a commitment we enact through our one-on-one tutoring of New Haven-area schoolchildren at three sites. New Haven Reads has developed an inventive model for building literacy within underserved neighborhoods and populations: pairing local volunteers with children in a calm, focused, and nurturing environment, surrounded by books. The children tutored at New Haven Reads make demonstrable improvements in their literacy; less quantifiable, but equally important, is the mentoring that takes place as these one-on-one relationships develop, weekly, over the course of the year. The buzz of learning and the building of self-esteem, as children realize that yes, they can read, they can complete that homework assignments, under the guidance of our tutors and our skilled staff, is palpable each day at New Haven Reads.
We have had so many successes. We have grown in a few short years from a community book bank, started by our visionary founder, Chris Alexander, into an institution serving over 500 students each week, thanks to the efforts of 400 trained volunteers. However, we have so much more to do. The need is so great. One third of our city’s children live in poverty; two thirds of our children read below grade level. In our strategic plan, we identified two issues as paramount: that our waiting list is consistently over 100 children and that our staff is delivering services at the lowest end of the non-profit salary scale, without benefits. We must strengthen our workplace in order to retain qualified people over the long-term and we must address the needs of the many children who we cannot currently serve, due to space and budgetary limitations.
We are extremely mindful, as a Board, of the importance of sustainable growth and of reinforcing the gains we have made, so as not to jeopardize the essential work we are already doing. I am constantly amazed how New Haven Reads achieves so much on such a small budget. We are committed to maintaining the concentration of our funds towards our program and ensuring that we stretch every dollar and every inch of space to serve our students and their families.
New Haven Reads contributes on so many levels to our city. As an architect, I sometimes think in physical terms. To me, New Haven Reads is the application of force where it is most needed: at the point of contact between one child and one caring adult, over time, to build a love of reading. Most fundamentally, we are improving the lives of the children we serve. But we are also improving the lives of those who donate their time to work with those children. We are teaching college students that the world is larger than their campuses and that their work can change lives. We are connecting retirees, who have so much to offer, with youngsters who benefit from their wisdom and care. Our work occurs one hour, one tutoring pair, at a time, but the accumulation of that work is the stuff of magic, as we see kids grow in literacy, as well as in determination and awareness that school matters, college is possible, and reading is wonderful.
We offer free one-on-one tutoring to over 500 students each week in grades 1 through 12 to address the dire need for improved reading skills. Our model is straightforward and effective: every student receives at least one hour of one-on-one instruction each week with a dedicated tutor. The program content and volunteer tutors are chosen and monitored by our team, which includes staff members who are certified teachers.
Studies have shown that children who struggle with reading often have not mastered phonics, which is why our tutoring program is rich with phonics.
Our students increase their literacy skills, improve their coping strategies with their academic challenges, have more books at home, and feel more confident in their abilities as students. Mentoring relationships develop between our students and their tutors that will provide additional encouragement and support. Our Parent Liaison helps parents navigate the school system to locate resources and support for their children.
Our goal is to help our students gain the skills and confidence to read at grade level and increase their ability to succeed academically. Our students face serious challenges, including poverty, food and housing insecurity, low family literacy, language barriers, and lack of resources to provide academic enrichment opportunities. In addressing these needs to assist students, we believe in working with them as early as pre-kindergarten and supporting them throughout their elementary, middle, and high school careers. We also provide free books to our students to increase their home libraries. According to a meta-analysis by Learning Point Associates, giving children access to print material not only improves their reading performance, but also is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading, causes them to read more and for greater lengths of time, and produces improved attitudes towards reading and learning. Ultimately, we are striving to share the joy and power of reading with our students and their families.
Our program-wide tools allow us to monitor each child’s progress individually and the effectiveness of the program as a whole. These tools include pre and post tests in literacy workbooks as well as measurements via a scientifically proven phonics software called Lexia. Additionally,we administer the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE) composite test to all first, second, and third grade students in the one-on-one tutoring program.We also request copies of report cards in order to track grade changes and monitor success and areas where students need to improve. Working individually with students allows tutors and staff to recommend additional activities and support geared towards helping the student succeed. Our Parent Liaison tracks parent/teacher meetings and conducts parent surveys.
New Haven Reads has been privileged to be an important part of many students’ successes. Jayden (2nd grade) had trouble reading and couldn’t decode simple three-letter words. We paired her with a tutor and together they worked hard. Six months later, Jayden had an incredible victory: She read a book by herself. Suddenly aware of what she had done, Jayden ran to the waiting room and read “The Cat in the Hat” aloud to her grandmother. Her grandmother beamed, and so did Jayden. It was a magical moment!
When parents share improved report cards with us, their joy cannot be quantified. Parents therefore become our best advertising and are the reason that we have such an extensive waiting list.
In 2014-15, 95% of the students tested with our CORE test increased their literacy scores. The testing allowed us to identify specific areas of weakness and students have received supplementary resources to hone in on areas with which they need the most help.
We offer free children's and adult books to the community through our book bank. Our Bristol Street location in New Haven has a front “bookstore” area for patrons. We pack boxes of books for over 60 area organizations, including Chapel Haven, Yale-New Haven Hospital, schools, shelters, senior centers and other community organizations. All our books are donated.
Research has shown that regular access to books has a direct impact on children's reading ability, irrespective of parents’ education, occupation and social class.
A significant 2010 study, led by the University of Nevada examined the importance of books in the home across 27 countries and all income levels. According to researchers, the presence of literature in the home had a profound effect on all families, irrespective of parental occupation or social class and impacts the number of years a student remains in school. Our goal is to enable students to have a considerable home library irrespective of family income.
As a result of a 2010 meta-analysis performed by Learning Point Associates, it was found that the effect of providing access to print materials to children not only increased their reading skills, but it also helped improve focus, self-confidence, and an overall positive attitude towards learning. New Haven Reads offers free books so that the literacy work we perform at our organization through tutoring can be continued at home. Our goal is to give away an average of 100,000 books to the community per year. This includes giving free books to all of the students in our after-school tutoring program. We have a system of tracking book donations and book distribution, which includes book donor information and information about teachers who take books.
We provide a high quality reading readiness program for children aged four to six. Our program targets children who are already demonstrating gaps in skills important to school success. Many low-income families do not have access to quality preschool, resulting in a need for “catch-up” during kindergarten and beyond.
The children who participate in the program are stronger kindergarteners and will enter first grade developmentally on track. Parents gain insights that will help them to understand their child’s developmental needs. In this way, this program increases parents' knowledge of the important milestones their children must meet to enter school success-ready. Parents and children are encouraged to take books home and read together, which will further advance student literacy. The Summer Literacy Camp helps prepare students for one of their most formative years in school while preventing "summer learning loss" that occurs when students lack learning opportunities over the school break.
The Pre-K and Kindergarten Program creates opportunities for children from low-income families to access early literacy education. It provides a safe haven for children to learn under the supervision and direction of experienced teachers who are highly skilled and knowledgeable. In more qualitative terms, children lacking in social skills can develop them throughout their experience in the program. Parents are encouraged to attend classes with their children in order to see reading lessons modeled that they can use at home.
Students are tested three times a year. As a result of their participation in the program, students will show improvement in the key indicators of Kindergarten curriculum mastery (e.g. letter recognition, phoneme recognition, sight-word recognition). Each participant is evaluated three times (in the fall, winter, and spring). Additionally, parents complete satisfaction surveys to provide their feedback on the program.
Parents and students consistently tell us of the positive experience they have at New Haven Reads. The individualized attention each student receives, combined with the strong literacy program and relaxed atmosphere, contribute substantially to the students’ confidence and motivation. In our latest testing (comparisons between scores in September 2012 and May 2013), Kindergarten students improved their scores by an average of 46%. We saw higher scores from our Kindergarten students who had completed our pre-kindergarten program.
We have three over-riding challenges:
1) To expand our services to our lengthy waiting list while maintaining the same high quality level of service we have today. As the numbers of students, tutors, and locations grow, we must be very careful that we do not diminish in any way the warm and caring environment or our ability to make each student feel they are the real focus of what we do. With that in mind, we are seeking opportunities and funding to open a fourth site to reduce our long waiting list.
2) To strengthen our infrastructure (software, policies, procedures etc), allowing us to grow our programs in a sustainable way.
3) To seek sufficient funding to support our entire program, including our talented and dedicated staff that make it all happen. At this point, New Haven Reads offers no benefits and limited vacation and sick time to employees. Staff salaries would not be considered competitive compared to other local non-profits in the salary area. This is an area on which the board is focused.
Kirsten has a Masters in Elementary/Early Childhood education and a K-8 teaching certificate. She taught in the classroom for five years in Maryland and New Jersey. Kirsten was the executive director of a non-profit organization called the Leslie Science and Nature Center, for 20 years in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to New Haven in 2010. Not only does Kirsten oversee the day-to-day management of the organization, she also tutors two students every week. Kirsten brings a wealth of nonprofit management expertise to New Haven Reads and is dedicated to the mission to share the joy and power of reading with children and families from the Greater New Haven area.
Fiona earned a Master of Nonprofit Organizations from the University of Georgia and a Postgraduate Certificate in Economics from the University of London. Fiona has a background in the for-profit sector as a marketing manager. Fiona has been involved with New Haven Reads since 2009 as a volunteer in developing its first strategic plan. She recently held a position in Yale’s Office of Development. In addition to bringing experience in development, Fiona also has experience in project management, fundraising, and organizational development.
We are well on our way to improving and strengthening our infrastructure, policies, and procedures. Just this year, we customized our Sales Force database system to create a secure, online database for our program.We now keep track of our 500 students including their assessment scores and attendance, our volunteers, our donors and a daily schedule. This change has been transformative for our organization.
One of the goals for the senior staff and the Board is to put succession planning policies into place should the need arise. Part of this process requires us to identify leaders within the organization (both staff and Board) and provide appropriate training so that these people have the skills and capabilities to step into leadership positions when needed.
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Educate a child and you change a community. For the child, a good education means better career opportunities and higher lifetime earnings. College graduates enjoy better health and are more inclined to volunteer and vote. For the community, supporting our youths’ educational goals results in a stronger society.
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