GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Starting in 2018, third graders will have to score higher on their Mississippi reading test in order to move on to the fourth grade. On Tuesday, the state launched a new campaign to help students make the grade. Gulfport schools are leading the way.
Susan McCay is an art teacher at Central Elementary. Every Tuesday, she volunteers for 30-minutes, working with a student who is struggling to read.
"I give up my lunch break, specifically to mentor on my own free time with Alpha Delta Kappa, which is a sorority I'm involved in," said McCay.
The state is urging more non-profits, churches, and businesses to partner with schools to help students sharpen their reading skills. That's the goal behind the new "Campaign for Grade Level Reading."
Gulfport is one of two participants in this initiative. Every elementary school in Gulfport has BOOST, a mentoring program that targets students who are weak in reading. It starts in kindergarten.
"We identify them early, the students that are struggling with reading. So by third grade, they're more prepared," said Teresa Ladner, Central Elementary Academic Interventionist.
That community support is even more critical now that the state is getting ready to raise the bar in the reading assessment for third graders. Right now, those students must make at least a level 2 on the test in order to advance to the fourth grade. Starting in 2018, third graders will have to achieve a level 3, 4 or 5 to be promoted.
"They're forming bonds with the kids. And the kids that may have some behavioral issues in the classroom, they come in here and we see none, because they are one-on-one with their mentor," said Ladner.
Volunteers, like Ms McCay, can see how the BOOST program is making a difference at Central Elementary. The number of third-graders who passed the state reading test increased from 86-percent in 2014 to 88-percent last year.
"Oh, I love working one-on-one with the kids. Anytime you can have that personal relationship with them and you get to know them, I think they want to work harder because they know you really care," said McCay.
Along with Gulfport, Oxford/Lafayette County is also participating in the initiative. The goal is to create at least ten community partnerships across the state.