One-On-One Reading Gets Results With United Way’s Volunteer Program

Did you know, before the pandemic, nearly 2 in 5 Quad Cities third-graders were unable to read?

Third-grade reading proficiency is a key milestone in a child’s life that can have lifelong implications. Research shows students who cannot read on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

“It’s disheartening to think about the impact the pandemic has had on third-grade reading proficiency,” said Dr. Pandora Lawrence, retired principal, African American Leadership Society committee member and United Way volunteer. “Our schools and teachers are heroes. They are giving their all to manage the evolving issues COVID presents, get our students back on track and set them up to achieve in the future. They need our help.

“These are unprecedented times. Let’s stand with our teachers and volunteer 30 minutes a week to help a child read.”

Children typically learn to read through third grade. By fourth grade, they must be reading to learn.

Without meeting this crucial milestone, they are significantly more likely to fall behind. That’s why early interventions to help young children read are so important to a student’s long-term success.

Kindergarten readiness, third-grade literacy and high school graduation are all related. They’re milestones along a child’s path to success in their career, college or military.

It is almost certain many kids have lost some of those academic skills due to pandemic-related challenges and stresses. And, we know that our low-income and marginalized students are more likely to suffer from the greatest loss.

“It’s alarming to imagine a future where our kids enter adulthood without the skills they need to thrive,” Dr. Lawrence said. “In about 10 years many of these students should be entering the workforce, learning a trade or going to college. If we allow students to fall behind and stay behind, this could put them on a path to low-wage jobs for the rest of their lives — unless we act now.”

A Partnership With Proven Results


Several years ago, United Way Quad Cities created programs to pair volunteers with children to read together in a structured, educational and fun environment. It was designed as a collaborative effort between several community partners, including Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline, East Moline, Rock Island-Milan and North Scott school districts to improve reading and comprehension with elementary students. Students received one-on-one coaching from trained volunteers weekly — either through our online program or in-person.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 60 students participated in our online reading efforts. 100% of them improved their overall reading skills. 40 students participated in our in-person efforts and 85% of them improved their overall reading skills.

“COVID-19 put a hold on the program, but we’re working to restart it and have big aspirations to grow it to help more teachers and parents get kids back on track in school,” said Dr. Lawrence.

“This is what United Way can do in our community that so few can. Bringing together the volunteers and resources to put this great program at schools, child care centers and community organizations. When we do those things together, we can give all of our kids the opportunity they deserve to achieve now and in the future.”

Learn more about becoming a reading volunteer.

Submit a Story