United Way Leaders United Quarterly - Summer - Page 7

Seven-year-old Amare dreams of
becoming a scientist when he grows up.
Some days, he says he wants to be a firefighter and
other days a police officer. Even as a first-grader,
Amare is very technically-minded, interested in
thinking critically and exploring his world.
“He likes to see how things work,” his mother Omeka
says. “I’m pushing him to be independent.”
But despite his determination, Amare struggled as
he learned to read throughout kindergarten. Omeka
noticed he was having speech trouble, so she
enrolled him in speech therapy after school. Then she
discovered the Y Literacy program through the YMCA
of Middle Tennessee, which offers free one-on-one
reading tutoring to students who are reading below
grade level. That’s where he met his tutor and friend
Heather. Heather and Amare spend every Monday
afternoon together, working on phonics, fluency,
comprehension and vocabulary.
“Just from working with Heather for the fall semester,
he made a whole year’s growth,” says Jordan Waller,
senior director of the Y Literacy program. “He went
from [reading on] kindergarten level to the beginning
of first-grade level. It’s hard to make an entire year’s
growth in that short of time.”
Heather starts each session by reading a book.
Heather reads and points out specific pictures and
words. Whenever she sees him struggling, she
encourages Amare to break the sentences down.
“I just say ‘What’s this word? OK, what’s this word?’
Then we put it together. He’s getting really good
at that.”
This program is important for students like Amare
because of the individualized attention he gets.
Amare is vibrant and energetic but at school he’s
more reserved. With Heather, he has the confidence to
ask questions that he might not ask at school.
“He’s very inquisitive with me,” Heather says.
Omeka says she knows Amare is strong-willed and
will continue to excel in school.
“He has it in him. He wants to learn,” she says. “He
adores math. I keep telling him, ‘You have to have
both pieces. You’ve got to be able to read well so that
you can do the math.’ ”
And Omeka is exactly right. In a couple years, Amare’s
reading skills will be critical to his success in other
subjects. And with dreams of becoming a scientist,
learning to read is an integral investment in
Amare’s future.
U n it ed Way o f M etro p o lita n N as h vi l l e

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