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Keokuk Literacy Program Expanding

Eugene Regis

Some of the youngest students in the Keokuk School District will have an opportunity this summer to improve their reading skills through the Reach Out And Read program.  The idea behind ROAR is to ensure they do not fall behind while they are outside of the classroom.
Volunteer Dev Kiedaisch said ROAR will be held on weekdays from June 8-Aug. 14 at Keokuk High School (11:00 A.M.-11:30 A.M.). It will precede the district's free summer lunch program, which is also held at the high school.

Kiedaisch said 18 volunteers have signed up to help students stay on track with their reading.

"The loss over the summer is just huge, especially for low income kids," said Kiedaisch.  "It compounds each year so that by the end of 5th grade, they are often two years behind the reading levels of their middle class peers.  That loss is huge and very detrimental to those kids."

ROAR is being organized by the people behind the Literacy Project, which is a program through the Volunteer Center of the Big River United Way. Volunteers spend several hours each week reading with students in the Keokuk School District who are behind their classmates and who do not have a learning disability.

Kiedaisch said the in-school program had a huge impact on students during its first 18-months.

"We are working with students who lack opportunity. They don't lack ability, they lack opportunity," said Kiedaisch. "Reading 1-on-1 with them really, really helps their reading, but it's hard for teachers to find that time when they have a class of 25 students, so that is our job."

The program started in early 2014 with 15 volunteers working with about 35 kindergarten and first grade students. This past school year the numbers grew to 21 volunteers and more than 50 kindergarten through second grade students with third grade scheduled to be added this fall.

"A lot of times we read for a while, then (we) play a literacy game.  Occasionally, I will help with a spelling list," said Kiedaisch.

Organizers are not sure how many students will participate this summer, given the fact that ROAR will be at the high school and there will be no transportation. Kiedaisch and several other volunteers asked the Keokuk School Board about budgeting for transportation next summer.

The idea seemed to go over well, especially with Board Members Alka Khanolkar and John Davis, who serve as volunteer readers through the program. Kiedaisch said in the meantime she and the rest of the Literacy Project volunteers will be prepared for however many students walk through the door this summer.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.