Busta’s Person of the Week: Shatoria Whiteside of READ works to close achievement gap in students’ reading and comprehension

Busta’s Person of the Week: Shatoria Whiteside of READ works to close achievement gap in students’ reading and comprehension
September 08
13:39 2023

By Busta Brown

I believe most of us would agree that great communication skills play a vital role in our children’s success, academically and developing a growth mindset. I also believe that great communication is the foundation for a successful marriage, and what makes a great coach, CEO, pastor, and parent.

Let’s meet Shatoria H. Whiteside, executive director of READ.

Are you a native of Winston-Salem?

Yes, I am from Winston-Salem. I was born and raised here.

What schools did you attend? Tell us about your experience in school.

I attended Mineral Springs Elementary and Middle School. I graduated from North Forsyth High School. School for me was an interesting experience. I’ve always loved learning, so I enjoyed school, but I’m also an introvert. Being an introvert caused me not to speak up and express myself when I was struggling in the classroom. Due to this, I quietly suffered through some subjects in school until my parents picked up on it. Often, that was when it was impeding my academic progress. It wasn’t until I was in college that I earned a 4.0 GPA because I learned to re-teach myself the way that I learned and was able to apply it to my studies. This experience served me well because it taught me that learning should not be a linear exchange and it helped me to become a better educator.

Tell us about Read, Empower and Distinguish (READ), and why you decided to start it.

I taught my now eight-year-old son to read at the age of two and it has skyrocketed his educational journey and capacity. Every child deserves a fair chance! During the pandemic, my son and I would go live on Facebook during our learning time so that parents could have daily lessons to teach their children during the summer months. From that platform I launched my business, The Learning Advantage. Many people and families that needed our services in my business lacked the resources to pay, and that didn’t sit well with me, so that’s when READ was established. People that are in need shouldn’t be turned away from something that is already negatively impacting their quality of life. I understand the autonomy that we possess as parents when we can educate our own children. A lot of our passion and work is around equipping caretakers to support their children in addition to what they learn in the classroom.

What is your expertise in the field of education?

My very first job at 14 years old was working in an early education setting. I have been an educator for over 20 years. I hold a master of education degree and I teach at the collegiate level now. I’ve been fortunate to educate learners across the lifespan. I’ve noticed a trend: Whether it’s with an elementary-aged learner or a college learner, when foundational reading skills such as phonics and phonemic awareness are lacking, you will find literacy disparities. Our mission is to provide that foundation, in addition to other tools and resources, to level the playing field and close the achievement gap for vulnerable populations, including adult learners.

What services does READ provide and how do you diagnose a child’s reading challenges?

We offer one-on-one tutoring, small group support, and family training via The Parent Academy. In addition to collaborating with our students’ teachers and looking at diagnostic data such as I-Ready, we also provide in-house assessments to determine their areas of needed support. We’re also very intentional about getting to know our learners and building relationships with them in a psychologically safe environment. Most of the learners that we work with are aware that they are reading below grade level, or that they have struggles. This sometimes impedes their progress more than their reading deficits because they lack confidence. So in addition to diagnosing their reading challenges, we empower them every chance we get because believing in themselves also takes them very far!

What results can parents expect and how soon should they expect results?

Participants can expect an increase in reading, writing, and spelling skills. Those are the three components of literacy. Consistency and collaboration are key to achieving these results. A lot of the reasons that we also train families is so that participants can always have a network of support. Once we determine the areas where they need the most support foundationally, improvement follows soon after because we place great emphasis on targeting those areas. They can also be empowered to reach for goals outside of becoming better readers. In our Trade-Off program, adults that desire to get their GED receive free tutoring. After passing their GED tests, many enroll in college and go on to graduate and obtain viable employment.

I asked Shatoria Whiteside to share a few of the challenges she faces with her reading program.

The need is greater than the resources. We have a list of people that we are working diligently to get to to serve. If we had enough volunteers and staff to serve the need immediately, that would be great, but we aren’t able to do that immediately. However, we will eventually get to them all. The nation has been in a literacy crisis for years. While some improvement is there, the achievement gap continues to widen for underserved communities and populations. We can’t tutor ourselves out of this issue. It’s going to take systematic change and reflection. It’s not a coincidence that the same demographic of people suffers from reading disparities.

I love hearing about wonderful success stories! And Shatoria, didn’t disappoint me in sharing hers.

We developed Reading Routes. It’s a caretaker at home guide to reading instruction. This is a guide that caretakers can use to teach learners foundation skills that are going to be entering school or that may be struggling with these skills. We’ve had retired grandparents pull their grandchildren from school and teach them using our guide to successfully prepare their grandchildren for kindergarten. As a steering member of the Pre-K Priority, I understand just how vital this is! Students who start strong have a greater chance of finishing strong!

One of our students came to us and was really struggling with reading and comprehension. During intake, we had a tearful conversation with mom because she was so upset and hopeless. She had been told that her son was reading three grade levels behind. At the end of this school year, he was reading on grade level and was the most improved in his classroom!

Have you or someone close to you had to overcome reading challenges?

I struggled with reading comprehension as a child. My dad and I would sit down to read a book and I’d “read” it, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. Like myself, many kids are “reading” words by sight or by memory, but they lack connection to the text or don’t understand the mechanics of reading. This caused me to have issues with comprehension and because I wasn’t comprehending well, I didn’t test well. Reading difficulties is a very common problem among school-aged children and adults alike. Statistics state that if students aren’t reading proficiently by third grade, they are more likely to end up in prison, in poverty and have a decreased quality of life. On the front end we are focusing on assisting struggling readers, but on the macro level we are attempting to change the trajectory of life for low literate students and families.

Do you offer any community events?

A lot of the work that we do is designed around working one-on-one or in small groups with the individuals and families that we serve. However, we do offer different events throughout the year. Recently, we held “Our Literacy Village” at the Juneteenth Festival. We partnered with different community organizations to give away free books, Black authors hung out in the space and read their books to participants. We provided families with supports and tools to help their children read over the summer and kids/families participated in various activities in the village. We are working on a new community initiative called Paint The City READ. We are preparing to go into different communities to train families on working with their children and to provide them with books to assist in this. We have a goal to train 100 families in ten counties. If anyone would like to volunteer to assist with these efforts, we’d love to train you and have you assist!

How can the community help support your program?

We need resources and volunteers! We had a recent Fox 8 news broadcast spotlighting our organization and we received close to 100 new inquiries about receiving services and the programs that we offer. We’d also be grateful to receive donations so that we can continue to provide equitable and quality resources to underserved communities and populations. They are tax-deductible. Donations can be made on the “Donate” tab on our website.

How can parents sign up for your program and what are the days and times?

Our website is We serve learners across the lifespan that need literacy support. Subscribing to our website is the best way to sign up for services. After subscription, a volunteer reaches out to see if there is a need and from there, we set up services.

Most of us occasionally have tough days. Share one of your favorite quotes or scriptures that gives you the strength to keep on pushing?

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill

My Phenomenal Person of the Week is Shatoria Whiteside.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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