GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The United Way of South Mississippi honored 28th Street Elementary on Tuesday with the Community Impact Award. The organization joined forces with the school this year to help students who are falling behind with their reading skills. The partnership is already working to boost students' grades and their confidence.
Starting this Friday, third graders across Mississippi will be taking their first ever Third Grade Reading Gate Test. Those who fail could be held back next year.
"I feel pretty nervous," said third grader Ameereone Stubbs.
Ameereone has been working hard to improve his reading skills. He's part of the BOOST mentoring program at 28th Street Elementary.
"I wasn't focusing that much, and I wasn't understanding most of the stuff until I came to BOOST," Ameereone said.
This year, the United Way of South Mississippi launched a pilot program at the Gulfport school. The organization recruited some 20 volunteers to tutor struggling readers. They targeted mainly third graders.
"It's been wonderful, and I actually tutored a student in the fall, and she's no longer in the BOOST program. Just to see, I think, their progress and the achievement they've made, it's been so special to me," said Brooke Crumpton, United Way Volunteer Center Director.
The volunteers have worked one-on-one with more than 100 students.
"I've seen their grades go up due to working with someone, taking the time and being compassionate and patient. It's been a rewarding program for the students and the mentors," said BOOST Interventionist Dianna Miller.
Ameereone has also noticed a difference.
"Now, I read at a fourth grade level. I feel pretty happy," he said.
Ameereone is smiling now and ready to tackle his next challenge; the state reading test.
"If I keep concentrating with these mentors, I might make way much higher, maybe even 100," said Ameereone.
Students have three chances to pass the test. That means volunteers will be needed through the summer to help those who fail.
"I think so many people see United Way, and they just think, oh money. But there are so many other ways to be involved in the development and nourishing of our community, and volunteering is a great way to contribute," said Crumpton.
Last summer, the United Way worked with about 30 first graders at 28th Street Elementary on their reading skills. The volunteers also tutored young readers at Central Elementary in Gulfport this year.