On a flight during a recent family trip, I scrolled through the available movies and was excited when I found a favorite I hadn’t watched in quite some time: Driving Miss Daisy. While the movie highlights the unlikely friendship of the cranky widow Miss Daisy and Hoke, her chauffeur,;the scene that profoundly struck me the first time and every other time I’ve seen it since is the moment when Hoke confides in Miss Daisy that he doesn’t know how to read. Miss Daisy doesn’t hesitate to assure Hoke he can indeed learn to read with some work and insists she can help him reach this goal – one on one. Hoke agrees, and before long a common sight in the film features Hoke sitting at the kitchen table happily reading the newspaper.

It is probably fairly difficult for most of us to imagine not knowing how to read. However, many public elementary school students in the greater New Orleans area experience deficiencies in reading skills that aren’t adequately addressed during the busy school day. One local organization reaches out to schools to offer help. Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR) aims to “… improve the reading skills and self-esteem of lower elementary school students.” A volunteer-based, nonprofit literacy organization founded 31 years ago, STAIR provides free reading tutors for first through third grade students in danger of academic failure.

STAIR’s formula is simple. Like Miss Daisy and Hoke, one volunteer teaches one child. In collaboration with the school principals, teachers and parents, “skill deficient” students are paired with trained volunteers who meet with their tutors after school two days a week or on Saturdays at partnering schools and churches for three hours of reading instruction and activities. Through a professionally designed curriculum, STAIR volunteers not only read together, but also play word games, write stories and develop unique and rewarding relationships. One current tutor who was also a STAIR student says “… I remember looking forward to going two times a week and growing a tremendous love for reading. … I used to be just like many of the children involved in STAIR, shy, quiet and lacking confidence when it came to reading. The program helped me to be more enthusiastic when it came to reading and to be more aware of my ability to be a good reader.”

Many of the benefits of the STAIR program are intangible, but the impact is evident in the improved test scores and parent evaluations. On average, participating STAIR students improved an incredible 100 percent on Oral Reading Fluency tests, and 95 percent of parents reported that their child is more interested in reading. Executive Director Veronica Reed states that, “The dedication of our volunteers, parents and students is the key to STAIR’s success. Strong partnerships with schools, churches, universities, community groups and funders are the keys to STAIR’s longevity. None of these elements are independent of the others.”

It is the relationships that make the difference as STAIR continues to share the joy of reading with thousands of children in our community. 

A Little Bit More …

STAIR has grown from 5 schools and 5 volunteers to 26 schools serving 200+ students annually in 5 parishes. (Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa)

Don’t miss STAIR’s major fundraiser “STAIR Affair” on November 10 at the Audubon Boulevard home of Kerry and Chris Bruno with Honorary Chairs Vonda and Charles Rice.

Become a STAIR Volunteer! Find tutor information and 2016 training dates on STAIR’s website.

For more information: 1545 State St., 899-0820, STAIRNola.org