Mateo Hernandez gazed at the shelf full of colorful books at San Antonio Elementary School in San Jose, reached for Syd Hoff’s “Danny and the Dinosaur: The Big Sneeze” and settled into his chair alongside tutor Jasmine Kaur.
“Danny’s mother…” the second-grader began, then paused.
“Let’s sound it out,” Kaur suggested. “Buh… Ruh… Ah… Tuh.”
“Brut?” Mateo, 7, asked, before correcting himself. “Brought!”
“Him chicken soup,” Kaur continued.
“Him chicken soup,” Mateo echoed.
The back-and-forth is part of a twice weekly ritual for Mateo and several other students who receive extra help to read at grade level. Since 1999, Reading Partners Silicon Valley has been providing one-on-one tutoring to help children from kindergarten through fourth grade at local elementary schools who fall behind in reading.
Reading Partners Silicon Valley is hoping to raise $15,000 through Wish Book to maintain and expand its program. The funding would allow Reading Partners to buy more books, many of which are given to the students to encourage them to read at home. It also will help the program expand into more schools.
Originally launched as YES Reading, the nonprofit began expanding beyond Silicon Valley 15 years ago. Rebranded in 2008 as Reading Partners, the program now operates chapters in nine states and the District of Columbia.
Reading Partners Silicon Valley serves Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and provides reading tutoring to about 240 students at San Antonio Elementary and Aptitud Community Academy At Goss in San Jose and Alexander Rose and Marshall Pomeroy elementary schools in Milpitas. It will add more students in January when it expands into Henry Ford School in Redwood City.
The program operates in what are known as Title 1 schools where at least 40% of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Reading Partners Silicon Valley Executive Director Felicia Webb said students who cannot read at grade level by fourth grade are 13 times less likely to graduate from high school on time.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our students in our area are reading six months to two years below grade level, and only 37% our third graders are reading at grade level,” Webb said.
Many of the public schools those students attend are short-staffed, Webb said. Teachers refer students they believe would benefit from tutoring to Reading Partners.
“When you’re a teacher with 30 students and you have five who are reading below the level of their peers, that’s a lot of time they’d have to spend to stop and give additional time to those students,” she said. “We have the people who are able to do that one-on-one with those students and improve their reading level.”
The tutors are all volunteers and come from many walks of life, including through the AmeriCorps program.
“I chose Reading Partners because I love the mission,” said Sharon LaChappelle, a former social worker and AmeriCorps volunteer with the program who was tutoring first-grader Victor Trejo at a table next to Mateo’s. “Reading is so important. Victor and I just met today and it was so much fun. He was just so on top of it!”
LaChappelle said that although she has some experience substitute teaching, she appreciates that Reading Partners has a well-organized program with staff volunteers who are always in the classroom to help out the tutors.
“It’s not like you’re just out there figuring it out on your own,” LaChappelle said. “The curriculum is so well thought-out.”
For Kaur, who graduated from San Jose State University and is exploring master’s programs, it was an opportunity to gain experience in education.
“I just love working with kids,” Kaur said.
The tutors work with their students in two 45-minute sessions each week. Most need about 30 sessions to get caught up on their reading level. Lessons are grouped for beginning and advanced readers.
Mateo started his session with picking out a book to read from. Then Kaur handed him a dry-erase board to write words he knows on one side and words he doesn’t on the other. She wrote some letters on the board for him to sound out words.
“OK, what’s is this letter?” Kaur asked Mateo.
“A,” he replied.
“What sound of the letter is it?”
“Ah,” he said.
“OK, what’s this letter?,” she asked.
“M,” he replied.
“What’s the sound of M?” she asked.
“Muh,” he replied.
“What’s this letter?” She asked.
“T,” he replied.
“And the letter T makes the sound?” she asked.
“Tuh,” he said.
“Good job, you’re fast!” she said. “You already know this word right?”
“Mat,” he said.
“Good job!” she said, giving him a high five.
At the end of the session, the kids got to browse the bookshelf for a book to take home.
Victor chose Dav Pilkey’s “Dog Man: Grime and Punishment,” and dove right into its colorful pages.
“And she’s mad,” he said as he looked at the pictures.
“This is like a comic book isn’t it?” LaChappelle said. “Yeah we were talking about that earlier — happy, sad, mad.”
“Happy… happy, happy, happy,” Victor, 6, continued. “Sad. Mad”
Kaur asked Mateo, “You want to pick that one?”
“Yep,” Mateo replied. He reached for Nick Bruel’s “Bad Kitty Takes the Test.”
“Because of the cat,” he replied.
“Great choice,” Kaur said. And with that, he headed down the hall back to his classroom.
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Wish Book is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by The Mercury News. Since 1983, Wish Book has been producing series of stories during the holiday season that highlight the wishes of those in need and invite readers to help fulfill them.
Donations will help Reading Partners Silicon Valley maintain and expand its program. The funding will enable the program to get involved with more schools and buy more books for students to encourage them to read at home. Goal: $15,000
Read other Wish Book stories, view photos and video at wishbook.mercurynews.com.