Organization aims to change culture of literacy throughout W.Va.

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The goal of Read Aloud West Virginia is to improve literacy among elementary school students in the state through reading. 

“Read Aloud West Virginia’s mission is to change the literacy culture of West Virginia by keeping reading material in the hands and on the minds of our state’s children,” according to the organization’s website. 

Founded in 1987 by a group of parents in Kanawha County, the nonprofit had a group of volunteers who started working on programs to help increase the interest of reading and books with students of all ages. 

“Read Aloud is a 30-year-old, homegrown, West Virginia organization,” Dawn Miller, operations director and 27-year volunteer, said. “[We are] dedicated to the idea that we have to motivate kids to read for fun. The kids who read for fun read more, and when you read more, you get better at it, and when you get better, everything in life gets better.”

The program has volunteers who dedicate a portion of time from their week to go into local schools and read to a classroom of students. 

“So, fifth graders, I would start off by reading 30-35 minutes at the beginning of the year,” Miller said. “By the end of the school year, they’d beg me to stay. By the end of the school, I was reading myself hoarse. I’ve had them hold me up to an hour, but it’s really like 35-40 minutes. Pre-K and kindergarten may be 10-15 minutes.”

While Read Aloud was once in 53 of the 55 West Virginia counties under the West Virginia Education Fund, the program faced reduced resources in the early 2000s, and by 2007, the number of participating schools had fallen to only four. 

In 2008, the program was transferred back to the initial Kanawha County chapter where rebuilding began. The program is currently in 29 counties and continues to grow, according to the website. 

As the program continues to grow, Read Aloud is continuing to seek volunteers, college students included, according to Miller. She said she had started volunteering in a similar way and time in her life. 

“A colleague had read about Read Aloud in the paper and it sounded interesting,” Miller said. “I’m a writer, a reader and I care about education and these people were saying, ‘You could read to kids. It’s fun and it’s good for them.’ I was a young reporter at the time, and I was looking for what my volunteer work could be. I was looking for something that could always be compatible with my day job.”

Miller said the organization welcomes volunteer readers of all ages and highly encourages college students to get involved because of the benefits they receive aside from working with the children. 

“One, assuming they’re traditional aged college students, they’re young people. Which means they’re going to be parents here in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years, and the knowledge and experience they gain by doing this is going to help them in their families,” Miller said. “Another benefit is completely unintended, but when you show up every week to read to 15-25 little kids, you learn to read the audience. Our readers become much better public speakers. It’s not a part of the program, but I know from personal experience and others. It is a good resume builder, too.”

Marshall University President Jerry Gilbert has been a supporter of Read Aloud and said everyone should participate if they are able.

“We’ve always known that reading to children is important for their development, but now the research is showing it has an even more significant impact on brain development,” Gilbert said. “I am an avid supporter of Read Aloud WV and encourage everyone in the Marshall community to get involved.”

Those interested in becoming a Read Aloud volunteer may visit ReadAloudWV.org. 

Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected]

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