Critical reading

Katie Good and Meredith Solomon

Meredith Solomon (left) and Katie Good

Meredith Solomon (left) and Katie Good

Photo by Howard Hardee

Literacy is fundamental to success at school and in society, and students usually cross an important threshold sometime around the fourth grade: They start reading to learn. But most fourth-graders in Chico—some 60 percent, in fact—are still learning to read. That’s why a local program called Reading Pals is intervening during the second and third grades, explained volunteer coordinator Katie Good. She recently spoke to the CN&R along with Meredith Solomon, one of about 165 community members who volunteer as reading tutors for one hour a week. Since starting in 2013 at Rosedale, McManus, Chapman and Citrus elementary schools, the program has expanded to eight local schools—including, as of this fall, two within Paradise Unified School District. Overall, the program has helped improve the reading levels of about 650 students. For information on upcoming fundraising events, opportunities to volunteer and how to make a donation to Reading Pals, go to

Why is literacy so important?

Good: If students aren’t reading for information, they typically will end up … dropping out of high school, or even middle school. They are also more likely to make risky decisions.

Solomon: It ends up being a community issue because these kids don’t end up being productive members of society.

What’s the curriculum like?

Good: We use Flying Start to Literacy, which is a guided reading literacy plan. Basically, we start at the level the student is reading at and have the students read out loud. The volunteers are mainly responsible for making sure the students pause at periods and other punctuation, they pronounce words correctly and they understand the definitions and meanings behind it all. They also go through comprehension strategies: “What is the author’s purpose?” “How can we compare these two characters?”

What do you read with them?

Solomon: It’s kind of funny. There are always two books in each set—a fiction and nonfiction. Nine times out of 10, they want to start with the nonfiction book.

Good: Yeah, they want the info—they want to know the truth!

Does it work?

Solomon: Our data shows most kids double their reading skills by the end of the reading period and catch back up to their grade level.

What do you get out of volunteering?

Solomon: I personally don’t have kids—I have dogs and a stepson—so it was a chance to be around kids and a school environment. I’ve had three sets of kids at Chapman. Just from the beginning to the end of the year, the relationship we’ve built is as important to me as it is to the child. It’s neat to see the progression from shyness on both sides to hugging and crying at the end of the year—and the confidence kids get.