This program is turning struggling students into leaders by having them teach.

Reading out loud is terrifying for many students.

I’ll never forget the heart palpitations I had in grade school while counting the students and realizing I'd have to read in front of them soon.

Reading to myself was great. But transferring school districts early in my education left me with little understanding of how phonics worked. The fear of struggling to sound out (and even spell) words aloud became the source of my academic nightmares.


Even as an adult, phonics still terrifies me.

And my harrowing experience with reading is all too common. The most recent data on American students reveal that 65% of fourth graders and 64% of eighth-grade students are less than proficient readers, so likely they're dealing with the same struggles I did.

It's a big part of why Reach — a nonprofit in Washington D.C. — is helping high school students become better readers by teaching elementary school students how to read.

Through it’s after-school tutoring program, older D.C. students are given the chance to engage with younger students by helping them with reading and other classwork assignments.

Amazingly, many of the tutors read at a fourth to six-grade level when they enter the program — but by the end, a lot end up like De’Asia who's now an AP student, a published author, tutor, and an aspiring journalist.

Reach’s founder Mark Hecker, a former social worker, began the organization in 2009. He believes that the program it unique because it gives youth, especially youth of color, the chance to be seen as valuable community assets.

"We trust teens to be responsible for things that they care about. And often, that makes education real in a way that the classroom doesn't always," Hecker told NPR.

Allowing these students to serve in such an important role provides an opportunity to rise to the challenge. It’s a sharp contrast to the traditional “dumb it down” curriculum resources that are given to struggling students.

Many participants, like graduating senior Mikala Tardy, stay in the program throughout high school because it had such a positive effect on them.

In general, American students are severely behind when it comes to reading proficiency. Programs like Reach’s that allow them to grow while teaching are invaluable.

With two-thirds of D.C. students below the reading level they should be at when they start high school, they test even lower than the national public-school average.

Reach believes that the responsibility associated with being a role model is a motivator to improve literacy. And, of course, allowing tutors to serve in a mentor-like capacity leads to positive outcomes for the students they tutor, as well. The program highlights the importance of a strength-based approach to solving problems. The staff also fervently believes that every student is capable of growth, and that level of support is a vital part of their success.

Currently, the program has 200 students who have helped 200 other students across 17 sites. During their sessions, both student teacher and student mutually benefit from what Reach considers the five core literacy principles: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.

The results speak for themselves — recently, Reach received the 2015 Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation.

But Reach does much more than helps students boost their reading scores — it fosters relationships that change their lives forever.

In addition to the tutoring, Reach offers summer leadership academy, college prep resources, and even gives teens the chance to be published authors through a partnership with Shout Mouse Press.

As our Department of Education threatens to cut billions of dollars in funding from public schools, programs like Reach remind us that at-risk youth, particularly students of color, need these resources to overcome the structures that have put them at a disadvantage.

But more importantly, Reach highlights the strength and potential in each student. It not only shows the public that struggling students can succeed given the right tools, it's also letting those same students know they have what it takes to achieve anything they put their minds to.

You can read more about Reach’s educational efforts on their website

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less