Reading on grade level by the start of fourth grade is a significant predictor of on-time high school graduation. So each week, United Way Reader Brenda Pabon volunteers to help her reading buddy, Yamil, develop reading skills that will determine his success in school for years to come as part of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut's Readers Program.
Yamil, 8, is learning English as a second language. He’s great in conversation, Brenda says, but he‘s still working on learning new vocabulary. It’s a challenge that makes reading more difficult for Yamil, but it’s a challenge Brenda is eager to help him overcome. It’s also a challenge that is close to her heart.
“I didn’t have someone to take the extra time to help me,” recalls Brenda, who struggled with language in school after moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child. “I really struggled, and I was even held back in the third grade.”
To keep Yamil on track, the pair dives into his favorite books—anything about dinosaurs or snakes. They read each page in English, Brenda translates new vocabulary for Yamil, and they use flashcards to reinforce the new words.
Yamil’s reading improves each week. He is one of 235 students the United Way Readers Program helped to develop critical reading skills during the 2015-2016 academic year in Hartford, New Britain, Enfield and Windham. Last year, 97 percent of participants improved their reading skills by the end of the school year.