New reading program uses volunteers to help struggling kids

The volunteers in the program work with the students twice per week.

New reading program uses volunteers to help struggling kids
January 20
06:18 2022

Only about half of the third-grade students in WS/FCS are reading on grade level. To help combat this issue, Project Impact’s Reading Warrior initiative is here to help.

Project Impact was founded in 2016 to help improve the literacy outcomes for the young children in lower performing elementary schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system.  

“The district has an initiative called 90 by 25 and the goal is to get 90 % of third graders reading on or above grade level by 2025,” said Paula Wilkins, executive director of Project Impact. “That is the current kindergartners who entered our district in fall 2021. We want to make sure 90% of them are on grade level by the end of third grade.

“Reading Warriors is one of the pieces of community support to help us reach the goal. The initiative is intended to get tutors who work with students. Currently we are working with 19 schools to start the initiative in kindergarten and first grade.”

The tutors work with the students twice per week for 30 minutes. They target students who are currently not on grade level based on their assessment data they collected through DIBELS, which stands for Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills.

“We use that data to identify students who would be great candidates to get a Reading Warriors tutor,” said Wilkins. “Then we work to recruit the tutors to serve in these schools. We use a specific curriculum for our program.”

Project Impact not only partnered with the WS/FCS system, they also partnered with Read Write Spell for the Reading Warriors program as well. Read Write Spell does the training for the first-grade program and the school district does the training for the kindergarten program.  

Esharan Monroe-Johnson, executive director of Read Write Spell, has been very instrumental in preparing the first-grade volunteers to get ready to tutor. Wilkins was thankful to have such a dedicated community partner such as Read Write Spell.

The program is in its infancy as they just began in August of last year. Wilkins, a lifelong educator and former principal of Cook Elementary School, transitioned to Project Impact last year and has high hopes for the initiative.  

“We see positive energy around the initiative,” she said. “We have 210 volunteers cleared to be Reading Warriors and have signed up. Of those 210, 121 have been assigned to schools to serve students. We have 38 of those volunteers assigned to kindergarten; first grade volunteers are at 89.

“Even though we have volunteers and we have already assigned and placed them at a school, they have to complete the training before they can actually start.”

Results are expected in year one, Wilkins said.

“What we are thinking is year one we might not see results in outcomes,” Wilkins stated. “We do expect to see fruits of the labor. So, this year when we talk about target milestones, one of the milestones was the number of volunteers we can get recruited.  

“Our goal is to get 1,020 and we are at 210, so we are on the road. We are not quite there, but I think it’s pretty good to just have started full force recruitment in September. I think we are moving in the right direction even though we might not fully reach our target, but the goal is to keep going because this is not a one and done.”

Wilkins says they will also look at the data to see which students move from reading below grade level to those who may be able to read on grade level. As the program grows, the goal is to get the program into all 44 schools.

There is no ideal candidate for someone to become a tutor in the Reading Warriors program. The only requirement is that they have a passion for helping the young people progress.

“Someone who wants to make a difference in our community, who is open to be trained, and who is willing to learn some foundational principles about learning how to read and to teach those to children using our curriculum, that’s all we need,” she said about the type of volunteers they need.

The training for the program is not that long for either the kindergarten or first grade. The kindergarten training is a virtual training that the volunteer can advance at their own pace with. Once they have completed the module training, they do a self-check and virtual Zoom check for any questions they may have. For the first grade, it is a 12-hour training done over two days and it is face to face.

Being an educator for two decades, along with being in a low-performing school, gives Wilkins a firsthand perspective of what the kids need and the importance of community volunteers.

“I think one of the great things about my experiences at Cook was really understanding the power of volunteers,” she said. “We had quite a few volunteers. We had several churches that were community partners and community members that wanted to help. So for you to move the needle, you have to have a strategic way to use a volunteer.

“Knowing how to take those lessons and apply them to a new initiative is just being strategic in the way you approach the use of your volunteers. And what I know is having a curriculum or tools that you can use to create some consistency will help to move toward better outcomes than to have something where everybody’s doing their own thing. To reach this goal, we have to have some consistency in how we approach what we do.”

For more information about the Reading Warriors program, please visit, call 336-705-1839, or email


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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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