Curing the Ill[iteracy]

We did it!  We trained 39 volunteer adults and 14 volunteer high school students to tutor 39 second graders twice a week from October 2022 to May 2023.  Not all tutors taught every night.  Not all students came every night.  Not all students came throughout the year.  But the net effect is still astounding as the chart below attests.

Each row represents one of our students.  The columns are labeled at the top with specific phonics skills taught by our volunteers.  The gray represents the starting point and ending point of our 2nd graders.

As you can see, most of our second graders, who were assessed at the beginning of the year as “well below grade level,” hadn’t gotten any further than their short vowel sounds.  That’s right: a,e,i,o,u – what kindergartners are supposed to be mastering.  But if your kindergarten was online (remember COVID?), you may not have made any more progress than these 2nd graders during the pandemic!  Depending on the consistency of their attendance, their attention span, and the date they began the program, they made different levels of progress at our Let’s Read! Literacy Tutoring Program.  But as you can see, a large number of them learned all their short-vowel and long-vowel words, which meant they were starting to read actual books!  That’s a win: that means they went from letters, words, and sentences being inaccessible to becoming readers!

If you were a volunteer tutor or reader (high school student) this year, you got to be eyewitnesses to this process – the thrilling joy of seeing a small mind open up to a world of cognitive understanding previously out of their purview.  This new skill can be a game-changer: from ‘D’s to ‘A’s in the classroom, from high school dropout to high school graduate, from unemployed to living wages!  It sounds far-fetched but statistics show otherwise: after food, clothing, and shelter, literacy is the primary building block to functioning in our society.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 23) is the final day of our program’s academic year.  We will begin again in October.  I would like to thank the heart and soul of our program, Malli Thanicatt, seasoned tutor and mastermind of our curriculum, who has methodically and systematically planned each lesson plan for each child each week from October to May.  Her steady hand has guided and advised all our tutors so that non-professionals could be effective teaching literacy.  Another special thank you to our ‘Hospitality Queen’ Alesia Wilson, who made sure snacks were ordered, picked up, sorted, apportioned, and distributed each week to our children and always with a smile, a caring heart, and an auntie’s watchful eye.  Of course, this program would not have even existed without our tutors and readers who came faithfully each week to spend a full our with an 8-year-old; you all carried the day!  Thank you, Blanca Palomino, for being the most reliable and trustworthy childcare giver to siblings throughout the year.  And to our partners: Watkins Mill Elementary School, Montgomery Village Foundation, Nourish Now, MCAEL, Henley Construction, Darnestown Presbyterian Church, and the myriad of individuals who donated finances, resources, time, and talents to make this happen.  We are so grateful to each of you.

Our prayer is three-fold: 1) each of these 2nd graders continue their learning and become expert readers!; 2) we are able to tutor more desevering ‘below grade level’ second graders next year; and 3) more tutoring centers like this one can be started around the county to meet the overwhelming need.

Remember: literacy in Montgomery County is not a problem.  It’s a crisis.  The consequences of not addressing it are dreadful.  If you would like to contribute to this program financially, go HERE.  If you would like to volunteer this Fall, look for details in September.  Thank you for your interest.


  1. Jennifer Magin says

    This is so wonderful!! Great job to everyone involved!!

  2. Alfonso H. says

    Congrats Norm!! Looks like you and your team of volunteers are making a difference.

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