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Reading Locker

Improving Children’s Literacy East of the River

By Christelle Tshibengabo

Reading Partners connects students in under-resourced schools with volunteer tutors and mentors across the United States. In Washington, D.C., Reading Partners has reading centers in 19 elementary schools, 10 of which are East of the Anacostia River. A significant percentage of the volunteers and tutors in the District’s Reading Partners programs are attorneys and other legal professionals. Attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP, for example, have volunteered for Reading Partners for several years, and Hogan Lovells partner Stuart Stein is on the board of directors.

Hogan Lovells has a number of programs that service communities east of the Anacostia River, including a partnership with Kimball Elementary School. Stein became involved with Reading Partners after attending a citizenship program held by Hogan Lovells at Kimball four years ago and has remained committed to volunteering since. Speaking with WCL intern, Christelle Tshibengabo, Stein explained that when he started volunteering at Kimball, he ran the corporate practice at Hogan Lovells. While his professional life kept him busy, he still made time to spend an hour every week with the students at Reading Partners. Currently, he works regularly with at least four students. When asked how volunteering with Reading Partners has impacted his life, he explained that it is an “unequal partnership” because you get more from the students than you give to them.

To learn more about Reading Partners, Tshibengabo also interviewed Reading Partners Community Engagement Director, Naomi Shachter, at Maude Aiton Elementary School in Lincoln Heights. When Tshibengabo arrived, three students from kindergarten through third grade were already in the reading center starting their day. Participating students are usually pulled from classes during independent reading times based on their reading ability and needs. When they arrive at the reading center, they meet with their tutors and begin a lesson, which consists of reading a book of the student’s choice aloud, targeting difficult vowels and consonants, and assessing content comprehension.

Lawyers can have an outsized impact on the students they tutor. As an example, Naomi shared the story of Ana, a DC law student and Reading Partners volunteer, and her student Israel, who worked together at Aiton’s reading center. At the beginning of their first year working together, Ana had said she wanted to become a lawyer, while Israel said he wanted to make pizza. But by the end of their second year together, both Ana and Israel wanted to become lawyers.

After their time at the reading center, the students are encouraged to take books home both as homework and for recreational reading. Because books for the program are donated to Reading Partners, donors are also important to the long-term impact on the students.

Reading Partners is always seeking new volunteers for its programs. To volunteer for Reading Partners, register online here. After registering online, attend an orientation, complete a background check, and then schedule a session time. The students’ lessons run for 45 minutes, so volunteering involves hour-long shifts during school hours. If finding time during the school day is a challenge, you can also donate books to Reading Partners for the students to take home.

Christelle Tshibengabo interned with Washington Council of Lawyers in 2018.