Alexandria Mentor of the Month

Alexandria Mentor of the Month

Making an Impact on Childhood Literacy

Gordon McGrath with Aron and Oliver

Gordon McGrath with Aron and Oliver

Of all the ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, teaching someone else’s children to read will not, on the surface, top most people’s list of priorities. However, they may be the most impactful hours of your whole week. Literacy and curiosity, gained at a young age, are the most important building blocks in a child’s life. They provide the foundation for all other achievements. Unfortunately those building blocks are distributed unevenly, often as a result of things children have no control over, like their family’s economic status.

We’re leaving kids behind through no fault of their own, and we all suffer for it. Studies gathered by the World Literacy Foundation and UNESCO measure that illiterate people will earn 30-42 percent less than their literate peers, and lack the ability to push themselves forward by gaining further skills. Reading is the one skill that allows you to gain all other skills. It is the underpinning of a successful life.

For years I have wanted to “volunteer more,” but I struggled. Sporadic corporate-organized opportunities became disjointed efforts rather than concerted progress towards an intentional goal. All I wanted was to help with something I enjoyed and knew made an impact. Some thinking eventually brought me to childhood literacy. Reading and intellectual curiosity were an ever-present piece of my childhood. I was inundated with education from the parents and teachers I was lucky enough to have. Unfortunately not everyone has these advantages built into their youth.

Signing up to be a mentor with Wright to Read was easy. As I got closer to the first day one-on-one with my student, though, the doubts crept in. What if I didn’t have enough time? Or worse, that I hated it? I’m no teacher or reading expert. I just happen to enjoy it and think it’s important.

So I jumped in. It has been a year of curiosity-filled adventure. We grab the globe in the library and find countries. We investigate foreign currency to decode where it is from. We have fun creating lists of new words and finding books we like. We practice asking the librarian questions and proactively finding new information. We read. We learn. After our first three months my mentee progressed an entire reading level (as measured by the DRA2 reading standards). Shortly thereafter I started working with his brother as well.

The most enjoyable aspect is the continuing bond we have. I can see the ways that I am directly impacting someone’s life. Young kids are malleable and they have a long runway. Benefits gained early, requiring only a small investment, compound for the rest of their lives. Moreover, it is a positive feedback loop. They are developing the ability to reach back help the next person. Literacy advances lives, and Wright to Read delivers literacy. Wright to Read is making a difference.

As written by my students:

“We like that we read and have fun. We like learning about everything, especially cool facts about subjects. It’s interesting to see how things work in pictures and explanations. We liked learning about how boomerangs work and then getting to test one. We like improving our reading level and spelling for school and finding ways to figure out words. Reading makes you better at being a grownup, going to college, and improving yourself.”

Gordon McGrath is a tutor, mentor, and committee member at Wright to Read. Wright to Read provides volunteer-based one-on-one sustained literacy tutoring and mentoring relationships to City of Alexandria elementary school children in need, and collaborates with families, schools and community partners to create a comprehensive support network that guides each child to success. Wright to Read is a member of the Alexandria Mentoring Partnership (AMP). AMP was created in 2006 to ensure that quality mentors and mentor programs are available for Alexandria's youth and young adults in need. To learn more about Wright to Read, visit or to learn more about AMP, visit: