‘It’s remarkable’: The Canby Center’s Reading Mentors Changes Lives, One Half-Hour at a Time

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 edition of Canby Living Magazine.

Do you want to make a positive impact on local kids and the Canby community, but don’t feel like you have enough time for volunteering?

Well, with The Canby Center’s Reading Mentors program, you can make a lifetime difference in only one hour a week!

Begun as a pilot program at Knight Elementary School in the fall of 2016, Reading Mentors developed out of a partnership between The Canby Center and the Canby School District. The program now serves all six elementary schools in Canby.

Students who are selected for the program by school staff generally come from kindergarten through third grade, which educators know is a critical time to engage students in developing them as readers and learners.

According to the 2018-19 Oregon Department of Education data, only 47 percent of third-grade students in Canby School District meet or exceed grade level expectations.

The program is simple: Mentors spend an hour each week reading one-on-one with students (half-hour with each), talking with them and reading with them. The idea is to take a relationship-based approach to help inspire a love of learning.

“Our job is to support the amazing work of Canby’s educators,” says Reading Mentors Program Manager Kathleen Hanberg. “We get to show the kids how fun, exciting, interesting reading is and why it’s worth all of that hard work. Then we send ’em back to class, ready to learn!”

Reading Mentors is not an academic intervention — the volunteers are not trained to tutor the students or evaluate their progress. But they often do, in fact, see academic growth as a result from the positive connections between a student and their mentor.

Numerous studies show that engaged students are more likely to persist through academic struggles, earn higher standardized test scores, have better social skills and are less likely to drop out of school.

“It’s a remarkable program,” Canby Superintendent Trip Goodall said during a recent visit to a Reading Mentors session at Trost Elementary School. “When you see the relationships that have been established, and the smiles on the children’s faces, I just can’t say enough about it. It’s remarkable.”

Student engagement is key: According to a spring 2019 survey given to teachers with Reading Mentors students:

90 percent said that their kids were more engaged in listening to a story than they were at the beginning of the school year and 85 percent reported that their students were more enthusiastic about reading

“We love the program,” said Andy McKean, principal of Eccles Elementary School. “We’re very appreciative. The volunteers have been wonderful, for them to come in and give their time so consistently with our kids. It’s just been great. We’re hoping we can keep this partnership for years to come.”

Christine Taylor, principal of Knight Elementary, said it’s not only the students who appreciate the program; teachers love it, too.

“Our teachers appreciate them so much, because they’re so committed, and they really just bring a little something extra to our school,” she said. “It builds our culture, and we love having them.”

Angie Navarro, principal of Trost Elementary, said the Mentors are able to provide a gift of time that teachers often can’t.

“We have 50 staff members and 420 kids,” she said. “So, our students really don’t ever get even 30 minutes of one-on-one time with an adult one-on-one. The Reading Mentor program really gives them a little bit of extra time that kids can have for someone to listen to them, read to them, get to know them and help them grow.”

More than 300 students have participated in the program over the past three years, with volunteers contributing more than 4,400 hours of service.

The Reading Mentors program is currently looking for new volunteers to join their team for the current school year. For more information, contact Kathleen Hanberg at kathleen@thecanbycenter.org or call The Canby Center for more information at 503-266-2920.

Or, apply today at www.thecanbycenter.org/become-a-reading-mentor.

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