Impacting students through volunteerism

Allie Prusa

Story County Reads, a collaborative group brought together by United Way of Story County (UWSC), strives to move the needle forward when it comes to education, specifically in the areas of school readiness, attendance and summer learning loss. By definition, summer learning loss is the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer, more so affecting disadvantaged children with limited access to engaging activities.

UWSC, which fights to improve the health, education and financial stability of every person in Story County, joined the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading (GLR) in Ames in 2012. The summer programs, as part of the Campaign for GLR, has seen success in students’ grades and growth. With help from a wide range of volunteers, UWSC, Story County Reads and its partners collectively provided summer programming opportunities at 13 sites throughout Story County last year. This summer, we hope to expand programming throughout all of the sites, reaching as many children as possible.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, most students lose two months of math skills every summer, and children from families with low incomes typically lose another two to three months in reading. Summer learning programs work to combat these issues and provide a safe, stimulating environment for students to succeed. These programs are necessary when considering the impact they have, often keeping students from falling from “Proficient” to “Not Proficient” on fall semester standardized tests.

“In 2017, over 20 percent of our summer program participants moved to a ’Proficient’ status, up from 17 percent in 2016,” said Malai Amfahr, UWSC Story County Reads coordinator. “Many students simply tread water academically over the summer, so for students to be gaining ground in these months is a promising statistic.”

The summer programs, ranging from week-long kindergarten readiness programs to six-week meal and enrichment sites, served close to 1,000 students last summer alone.

“Volunteers are vital to the success of these programs,” said Jean Kresse, president and CEO of UWSC. “With the help of the Volunteer Center of Story County, nearly 400 volunteers gave almost 4,000 hours of their time to support students throughout Story County. These initiatives would not have happened without the diligence and commitment of our community volunteers.”

Volunteering is two-fold when it comes to impacting the lives of children in our schools. For one, volunteer engagement fosters a relationship that will deepen the understanding of program initiatives and help build partnerships that will expand our efforts for years to come. Volunteers working hands-on with these students raise awareness about summer learning loss and how crucial these months are in our students’ lives. Secondly, the impact that volunteers have on our students is life-changing in their overall academic success.

“The students that come to our programs are students who are already falling behind, but more so, they don’t necessarily have the resources themselves to improve their situation,” said Amfahr. “They often need role models in their lives that can develop into solid mentor/mentee relationships, leading to healthy academic and social growth. The truth is, there is so much more happening here than just academics and that’s the beauty of it all.”

Volunteers play a fundamental role in improving the quality of life in our community. There are over 100 volunteer opportunities happening throughout Story County this summer. Enrichment sites will be offered in Ames, Nevada, Collins-Maxwell and Ballard school districts, as well as at the Ames Public Library and Boys & Girls Club of Story County.

Volunteers are currently being recruited for classroom assistants, presenters, tutors and more! We know we cannot do this alone, so we invite you to join us in the fight against summer learning loss. United together we can create real, long-lasting change in the lives of many.

For more information on volunteering for the programs, please visit www.uwstory.org or call Story County Reads at 515-291-4726.

Allie Prusa is the marketing director for United Way of Story County.