Lead to Read is finding the right words to build a tomorrow

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Volunteer Grant Campbell, an employee at Henderson Engineers, reads with a student. // Photo by Martha Weber Conradt

Children who cannot read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Currently, in Kansas City, only 45 percent of third-graders are reading on grade level. Studies are predicting significant learning loss due to COVID-19 school closures. Now more than ever, students need personalized reading and mentor support to encourage children to continue and be engaged with reading. Luckily, local Kansas City non-profit Lead to Read KC helps provide just that.

Lead to Read KC started with a vision of bringing a few community volunteers into Kansas City area classrooms to read with students in elementary schools. In the 2019-20 school year, the nonprofit became the largest literacy volunteer corps, by providing more than 500 hours of literacy support and mentorship each week with over 1,100 elementary students across the metro. Why would people volunteer an hour of their week to read to students? Because the inability to read well has lifelong repercussions, including unemployment and underemployment. Plus, for many volunteers, it’s a major highlight of their week.

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Volunteer Alane Watts, an employee with American Century Investments, works with a student. // Photo by Sara Summers

Due to the pandemic, Lead to Read KC pivoted into offering digital reading-based mentoring programs to supplement its in-school programming. Meaning kids in their at-home “classroom” still experienced the joy of reading. With community support, Lead to Read KC launched their new digital reading and mentoring program in six schools: Academy for Integrated Arts (AFIA), Brookside Charter, Crossroads Academy Central Street, Crossroads Academy Quality Hill, Genesis School, and KIPP KC.

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A student participates in the digital reading-based program. // Photo by Pauly Hart

If one of your 2021 resolutions was to volunteer more, here’s a way to make a meaningful impact on the youth in our community, while reading safely from your home. Lead to Read is looking for volunteers who are available between 30 minutes to an hour during weekdays. Apply online here. The application includes a 30-minute training before you get partnered with a student. 

The cost for one year of one-to-one reading and mentoring support for a student is about $200. 

A donation to Lead to Read KC allows them to purchase books that are grade-level appropriate and distribute them to students and teachers. Lead to Read KC has distributed more than 6,000 books to help keep students reading at home, but they still need your support. If you are interested in donating a one-time or monthly gift, please visit their website 

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