“No child will ever learn to read until he wants to,” retired English teacher Joanna Boyd said. “I don’t care who it is. No one will ever begin to learn until he tries.”
Reflecting on her career as a teacher, Boyd said teaching was some of the hardest work she had ever done, but it was also the most rewarding work, too.
“Seeing students grow, seeing them ‘get it,’ was my greatest reward. The only way they began to learn was if they tried,” Boyd said. “You have to listen to the child because everyone is unique. Be patient.”
Teachers have strived to help students grow academically for ages, but not every student always meets the standard quota. In an effort to leave no child behind, the non-profit organization, Better Basics, uses retired teachers and volunteers to promote literacy in lower-income schools in Birmingham, Alabama.
Better Basics is positively impacting lower-income schools by encouraging students to read, by building harmonious relationships between students and teachers-in-training, and by legitimizing the need for the community to give back to its students.
In addition to motivating elementary students, Better Basics helps get college students excited about teaching.
“Better Basics partners with education majors at Birmingham Southern College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham in utilizing teachers-in-training and putting them in the classrooms,” Bradford said. “We have something called reading mentors who work with students who are reading below the 26th percentile (predominantly students in kindergarten and first grade). They encourage those students that reading can be fun. Once our students build up those skills, they will be better prepared to read on their own.”
Better Basics’ most influential program, Reading Intervention, uses former educators and community members to tutor elementary students weekly on building reading and comprehension skills.
“We pretest these kids to see who is reading below grade level,” Better Basics Executive Director Kristi Bradford said.” “That teacher uses the pretest to determine where to start with that kid’s reading skills. We put kids who are scoring from the 26th percentile to the 50th percentile with certified teachers to work on building their comprehensive skills. They work with their teacher three times a week for about 35 minutes, so they get 60 sessions with that teacher per academic year.”
Outside help is always welcome.
“I think that if the person who’s teaching it (reading the books to the kids) is excited, then the kids pick up on that,” second-grade teacher Valerie Tucker said. “My kids get so excited when the volunteer comes in to read to them. They always became motivated to read because it was someone new, someone fun, coming to their class.”
While the organization’s main volunteers are education majors and retired teachers, a large majority of readers are actually community members.
“Oh, we had one guy from Alabama Power,” Bradford said. “We had others who would come on their breaks at work. People from all over.”
Some similar faces help, too.
“I had a lot of parents come,” Tucker said.
Better Basics was actually founded by a local volunteer. Former FBI agent John Glasser first came up with the idea for promoting literacy in 1993 at Barrett Elementary School, which is located in the North-Roebuck area of Birmingham.
Glasser began volunteering as a tutor for students when he realized that a large percentage of those students were reading below their grade levels. His idea of fostering a love for learning in a welcoming environment for students grew so much that in 1998 United Way recognized Better Basics as being a legitimate non-profit and backed its efforts to promote literacy.
“It’s important to start early,” Tucker said. “A large number of inmates in prison are actually illiterate.”
According to Literacy Mid-South, the 2016 National Adult Literacy Survey said, “70 percent of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a fourth-grade level, meaning they lack the reading skills to navigate many everyday tasks or hold down anything but lower (paying) jobs.”
Bradford said that Glasser realized this, too, as a volunteer reader. It was so important to him to teach children to read because knowing how to read is the basis for all learning. It opens up so many doors.
“My husband is a police officer,” Bradford said. “We have always said that we both fight crime. Mine is just the preventative type.”
Anna Grace Moore, Contributing Writer