Commentary: Help Children Improve Their Reading

Commentary: Help Children Improve Their Reading

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed traffic in and around Alexandria is heavy these days — almost at a standstill at some intersections. Must be that time of year — school is back in session. It signals a time of new beginnings, progress, and academic achievement. Many of these students are walking into a new school for the first time with backpacks, pencils, and notebooks, and the students are filled with the high hopes and great expectations for the year ahead.

As program director of Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC), I share the excitement and anticipation of the first day of school. I am a parent of two girls who navigated the ups and downs of walking into a new school, getting to know the wide range of students, from those who are seemingly the “brightest,” to those who may need more attention. ATC has also walked into school each fall to provide the necessary support for the many students who will find they are struggling with reading. In fact, we’ve walked into school to help over 2,500 students within the City of Alexandria's public schools learn to read over the past 20 years. And, we will be there again this year to offer necessary tutoring support to meet individual student needs.

As the new school year begins and teachers start to observe their students, ATC will be listening and learning for what teachers say their students need. Specifically, we will be zeroing in on those first graders and kindergarteners that need help to be reading on or above grade level by the end of the school year. ATC was formed in 1996 to help such students.

When the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) launched the Primary Initiative with the goal that all ACPS students would be able to read at grade level by the end of second grade. The school system recognized that higher-level reading would be vital for success in the emerging education curriculum of the 21st century.

The Rev. Gary Charles, then pastor of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House joined with Dr. Herbert Berg, then superintendent of ACPS and Steve Rideout, then Chief Judge of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, to form the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium that united local faith communities and individuals throughout the city with elementary school principals, teachers, and reading specialists to provide reading tutors to first grade students in the public schools.

Fast forward to 2017. ATC now tutors first grade students and kindergarteners in six ACPS schools. For first graders, we use the nationally recognized Book Buddies program developed by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. First grade students meet with a trained tutor twice weekly in one-on-one sessions using customized weekly lesson plans. ATC also provides a Reading Readiness program for kindergarteners targeted to improve their basic literacy skills. The tutors' work for both programs is guided by ATC coordinators who train tutors, assist in selecting students, match tutor and students, provide guidance, develop weekly lesson plans (for first graders), observe tutoring, and maintain records.

ATC’s work produces positive results through our one-on-one tutoring sessions that improve a student’s literacy skills. In the words of educational professionals, our program increases a student’s on-grade reading levels.

If you are not stuck in traffic, how about joining ATC and becoming a volunteer tutor this year? With the increase of students that need help we will need additional tutors. If you can dedicate 1-2 hours per week to tutor, or if you want to volunteer support in other ways, please contact us at or reach out to me personally at

On behalf of the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, I hope your child and you have an amazing year in school. If you see me at a stoplight, please don’t honk! I’m just like you, waiting in line to help a child do well and improve his or her skills.