Everybody Wins! Atlanta operates in a city in which 56 percent of third graders are reading below grade level. That statistic is a grim one. But Everybody Wins! Atlanta is committed to turning that statistic on its head. Reading fluency is crucial to getting an education. An education is crucial to getting a decent job.
Our small grants program helps us reach and educate more children than we could on our own. We were pleased to support this Atlanta-based organization and its mission, in our modest way. We had a chat with Executive Director Tiffany Tolbert, to learn more about this work.
Kars4Kids: Tell us something about your demographic, the children you serve.
Tiffany Tolbert: We serve youth in grades K-5 who are struggling to read. Our students attend public schools in low income communities.
Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your Power Lunch program.
Tiffany Tolbert: Our Power Lunch program pairs volunteers with students for 1:1 weekly reading sessions during lunch time. The program increases leisure reading time, comprehension and vocabulary. In addition to weekly reading sessions, each student receives 3-5 books annually to help build their home library.
Kars4Kids: What is the value of the live story-telling that takes place in the framework of your StoryTime program?
Tiffany Tolbert: StoryTime is an exciting and engaging program for our students. The program includes acting, dancing, and drumming as a value story is read aloud for kids in grades K-2. Children get caught up in the story, and each child benefits from interacting with props and drums. For many students, this is the first time they have been involved with story performance, a wonderful way to learn by doing.
Kars4Kids: Can you describe the Home Library Project for us?
Tiffany Tolbert: The Home Library Project was created during the pandemic. Since 1997, we have distributed books for our Power Lunch and StoryTime students. In 2020, however, families expressed a need for books for the entire family. The families requested cookbooks and books on money management and self-esteem. In response to this request we solicited books for every age level. The response was amazing! Through donations from several local companies and longtime volunteers we were able to distribute 8,000 books to families in Metro Atlanta. We are continuing the Home Library Project this school year.
Kars4Kids: How important are volunteers to your programs? How many volunteers do you have?
Tiffany Tolbert: Volunteers are the heartbeat of our Power Lunch program. Their weekly interaction with the students is critical to the impact and growth of our mission. Prior to the pandemic we had over 800 volunteers, we now maintain 250 volunteers who read virtually with our students.
Kars4kids: How many schools participate in your programs? Can you give us an example of feedback you’ve received from a teacher?
Tiffany Tolbert: There are 10 schools in the Power Lunch program and 12 schools in the StoryTime program. Teachers have informed us that there is a significant increase in their library lending after each StoryTime program session. The teachers have also shared that for many students, the 1:1 reading sessions are the highlights of the child’s day. Students are improving their reading and comprehension, but additionally the connections with caring adults are helping children to improve their social skills, self-esteem, and confidence.
Kars4Kids: Your website quotes a dire statistic: 56 percent of Atlanta third graders are reading below grade level. We know that kids who aren’t reading proficiently by the end of third grade, are less likely to succeed in the classroom. Can you tell us something about the impact of your program?
Tiffany Tolbert: Our program provides support to children who are reading below grade level. Children reading above grade level often have additional resources at home and read in school and at home with their families. The students reading below grade level in 3rd grade are at risk of failing in other subjects.
Between the ages of 0-8 children are learning how to read, age 8 and beyond, children are reading to learn. If a child is not reading well in 3rd grade, then they will not have good comprehension in their other subjects. Unfortunately, the percentage of low readers is higher in lower income areas. Sadly, there are many students who lost 2 years of learning due to out-of-school learning over the past 17 months. This dire need is why our program is so important, our Power Lunch sessions, volunteers, book distribution and reading tips are helping to close this gap. Our students are learning new vocabulary words, improving comprehension and increasing their leisure reading and family reading times.
Kars4Kids: How did the pandemic affect your operations?
Tiffany Tolbert: The obstacles to education created by the COVID-19 pandemic were more difficult for students who already struggled to read, and especially those living in poverty and are Black or Hispanic. A recent study conducted by Learn4Life showed that 78% of students attending public schools within the broader Metro Atlanta region are of color, and 59% are considered low-income. Only 44% of the entire student population are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Only 32% of Black students and 31% of Hispanic students in Metro Atlanta public schools are reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Twenty-nine percent of those students are economically disadvantaged. Seventy-one percent of students considered low-income in Metro Atlanta are reading below grade level.
When the coronavirus pandemic prompted a stoppage on in-person learning in many of the public school districts, large numbers of students fell further behind in their core subject areas as time went on. As a result, there has been a steady decline in students meeting standards for reading. Those who were already at-risk prior to the pandemic, dropped another two percentage points or more as virtual learning continued throughout the academic year. Everybody Wins! Atlanta remains more committed than ever before to closing this gap, and helping our students get back on track in the year ahead. Although our program shifted to a virtual platform, we were able to increase the number of books we distributed and remain connected with our families.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Everybody Wins! Atlanta?
Tiffany Tolbert: We are gearing up for our 25th anniversary next year! We are expanding our programs to additional schools within the districts we serve. Additionally, we are partnering with more authors of children’s books and literacy-based organizations.