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Investing in Communities

Client works to support child literacy amid the pandemic

4 Minute Read

While school districts across the United States have struggled to decide whether to hold classes in person or online, one thing remained unchanged – the need for young children to continue making progress toward reading proficiency.

“When students get to the fourth grade, they are expected to transition from learning to read and begin reading to learn,” says Sue Slater, chief regional operations officer at Reading Partners. “From this point on, they’ll use their foundational reading skills to explore and master new subjects like science, history and social studies, so it is essential that they have proficient reading skills by this age.”

For more than 20 years, Reading Partners has been working with elementary school children from families experiencing economic disadvantages and helping them become proficient, confident readers. The national nonprofit is based in Oakland and builds partnerships with teachers, parents and community volunteers to provide students the literacy support they need to succeed in school and beyond.

“In a typical, non-pandemic year, we partner with hundreds of elementary schools across the country to convert classrooms into reading centers where students receive one-on-one tutoring for 45 minutes twice a week, which has been determined to be the critical amount of support,” Slater says.

Reading Partners has about 150 employees and is supported by more than 300 members of AmeriCorps, a national service program. Including community volunteers, Reading Partners has historically engaged more than 14,000 tutors helping children master reading skills.

Reading Partners develops and maintains curriculum and lesson plans, and trains tutors on implementing those plans with students.

“Our workforce spends a lot of time in the field,” Slater says. “More than 80 percent of our expenses are related to personnel. We have very small offices because the programs happen at our partner schools.”

Reading Partners has been a Union Bank client since 2008. The bank provides the organization with Transaction Banking, deposit, and credit solutions, says Logan Taylor, Senior Relationship Manager in Commercial Banking, who volunteers as a tutor in the Reading Partners program.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Reading Partners quickly innovated to be able to offer literacy support to students via videos and family engagement programs.

Supporting child literacy

“We developed new programs as rapidly as possible to help students mitigate learning loss due to school campuses being closed,” Slater says. “We also accelerated the implementation of our online tutoring program, named Reading Partners Connects, that provides the same one-on-one literacy support for students, but through a digital platform. We’re really excited about the possibilities both during the Covid public health emergency and beyond.”

Reading Partners also turned to Union Bank for help securing a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

“Their loan didn’t fit nicely into the SBA (Small Business Administration) profile but I was able to help them navigate the process and secure funding,” Taylor says.

The PPP funding helped Reading Partners avoid having to close while keeping layoffs and furloughs to a minimum.

“It enabled us to weather the storm in a much more compassionate way,” Slater says.

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Written by Erik Battenberg