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Alexandria Woman Helps Youth Get Second Chance

by Mary F.

I am the Volunteer Coordinator for the Reading Is Power! program at the post-dispositional New Beginnings Program in The Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Home (NVJDH) in Alexandria, Virginia. Reading Is Power! uses the Read Naturally Program, a nationally known and research-based reading program that assists youth in developing a strong foundation of phonemic awareness to develop fluency and become independent and confident readers. The program is the fruit of collaboration between NVJDH, The Urban Passage, and Seeds of Tomorrow, and it is funded by a multiple-year grant by the Mirant Corporation in Alexandria.

Having a son growing up with emotional disabilities and special education needs, and who ended up involved with the juvenile justice system, caused me to continue to care about these children and their futures. In an effort to help my son progress, I spent many hours of research which resulted in my understanding of why some children have behaviors that put them in even greater risk of getting involved with the law. This research revealed startling academic disparities that these children have compared with children who don’t get into trouble.

Children’s downward academic spirals often begin when they start having behavior problems in school. They get in trouble in class and are removed. Once removed, they start missing core concepts. Negative behaviors are repeated, to get the wrong kind of attention, and more core academic concepts are missed. Many children aren’t given extra opportunities to catch up on the missed concepts, and school then becomes a series of negative experiences and not somewhere they can be successful. By the time they get to high school, if they make it that far, they are significantly behind their peers in basic disciplines like reading and math.

The Reading is Power! program begins to help address their reading deficits to help them get back up to where they need to be academically to begin to start experiencing some personal academic success. Once these children start experiencing some successes, their confidence builds and promotes better achievement overall. Improved personal achievement can translate into becoming contributing members of a community, like staying out of trouble by getting involved with school activities, graduating from high school, and becoming employed.

Since children are court-ordered to participate in New Beginnings, a six-month therapeutic program, it gives the Urban Passage volunteers the opportunity to meet with these children for at least two times per week for one hour each session, which is a total of about 40-48 sessions of Reading Is Power!. Some of our kids have improved several grade levels in reading and are thrilled about their personal success.

The Reading Is Power! program has been in operation since December 2008 with no end in sight. However, we do need more adult volunteers to assist the core volunteer staff. If you are interested in volunteering in this program in the Alexandria area, or would like more information, please contact Mary Beth Flowers at mflowers@aol.com.

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