An August Reading Challenge

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An August Reading Challenge

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on August 4, 2021

As we head into the last official month of summer, August provides a chance to give in to a slower pace for just a little while longer. The busyness of back-to-school time will keep! So enjoy this final reading challenge of the summer.

Reading is one of the best ways to support "brain gain" over long school breaks. Students who read just a few minutes each day are more likely to retain more of the grade-level skills and proficiency they've gained during the school year. This establishes a good foundation for kids' return to school in the fall. You can read more about the benefits of summer reading for children here.

For a simple August reading challenge that's easy to adapt to any age, reading level, or genre preference, follow the list below. One book per week, every week this month:

  • Read a book in an usual place: under a tree, on a swing, poolside, at the beach, etc.
  • Read a book from the bottom of your "to be read" pile.
  • Listen to an audiobook of your choice while you do something outside, like taking a walk or gardening.
  • Read a "pandemic" book published in the last six months. 

Good luck! We'll be back next month with a new reading challenge for you. Until then, keep reading!

The New Volunteer Dashboard is Here!

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The New Volunteer Dashboard is Here!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 28, 2021

It's no secret that volunteering with STAIR-Annapolis is an incredible experience. We're so thankful for our volunteers and are always looking for ways to offer support and encouragement as they work toward building relationships and improving the lives of young readers in our community.

To that end, we're pleased to introduce a new way to manage the processes and paperwork necessary to becoming a STAIR-Annapolis tutor: The Volunteer Dashboard!

The Volunteer Dashboard has been designed as a one-stop spot for everything new and returning volunteers need to stay on track and up-to-speed with our organization.

Let's take a look!



The Volunteer Checklist is the starting point for interacting with the Dashboard. It's a printable document that outlines all the steps required to serve as a STAIR-Annapolis volunteer. The checklist is an easy way for you to stay organized as you move through the Dashboard, and helps STAIR-Annapolis staff ensure each volunteer has completed all the necessary requirements before the first day of tutoring.


It's now easier than ever to access STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Training whenever it's most convenient for you. We've refreshed our training this year, offering two different on-demand videos, each with a distinctive focus. Part 1 is called "Getting Ready to Volunteer" and Part 2 is called "Working with Your Student." Hosted by our very own Volunteer Coordinator, Malena Ruland, these videos cover everything from a brief history of STAIR-Annapolis to useful tips and tricks to enhance tutoring sessions. Presentation slides are included, too, and these can be downloaded and saved for future reference.



Anne Arundel County Public Schools requires all volunteers to view and verify the AACPS-produced Sexual Harassment and Child Abuse Video every year. This video is now embedded on the STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Dashboard, where we've also added a convenient verification form. In just a few minutes, you can have this task checked off your list and the results are sent directly to STAIR staff!



All STAIR-Annapolis volunteers must submit a background check in order to work with the children enrolled in our program. These background checks are good for two years, after which a new application has to be submitted. The Volunteer Dashboard includes an entire page dedicated to this essential element of tutoring with STAIR. We've created a helpful how-to video to guide you through the process, a direct link to initiate the background check application, and a verification form that notifies STAIR staff that the application has been completed.



Occasionally, STAIR-Annapolis will offer small group in-person training sessions. When these sessions are scheduled, volunteers will be able to access registration links from the Volunteer Dashboard. Be sure to check our Facebook page and website calendar for announcements regarding in-person training opportunities!



The Tutor Resource section of the Volunteer Dashboard contains links, videos, and other resources to help our volunteers make the most of every tutoring session. We're always seeking out content that will help tutors feel prepared to work with students no matter where they are or what literacy skills they need the most support with. This section will be updated frequently, and we hope it'll offer our valued volunteers a go-to source for tips and tricks to ensure success!



STAIR-Annapolis volunteers are dedicated to asking all the right questions in an effort to bring their very best to every tutoring session. The FAQ section of the Volunteer Dashboard is here to help, with a list of some of the most common questions new and experienced tutors have about joining the STAIR program, working with second graders, and following STAIR-Annapolis policies and procedures. We'll add to this list often, so if you have a question you don't see just let us know!


We're really excited about bringing this new tool to our volunteers. It's our sincere hope that the Volunteer Dashboard helps simplify the administrative tasks that our volunteers must complete before the first day of STAIR so they can focus on getting to know their students and starting the adventure in reading together!

STAIR Supports Summer Brain Gain

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STAIR Supports Summer Brain Gain

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 21, 2021

Hundreds of years of educational research have proven that kids need to stay engaged in some kind of learning over the summer. Long school breaks can be detrimental to the learning process, with some students losing as much as two month's worth of grade-level proficiency in core subjects. That's a lot!

"Summer brain gain" is aimed at providing children with educational opportunities throughout the summer months. Things like STEM and STEAM camps, school-sponsored programs, museum and library outreach, and outdoor educational programs all help kids stay engaged in the learning process while having fun and enjoying a well-deserved break from traditional schooling.

Programs like STAIR helps support brain gain by providing students with books and activities to help keep their literacy skills sharp over the summer. We've sent hundreds of books to STAIR students and given away hundreds more at our STAIR Book Fairs. We're also providing gifts of new books to other organizations like Reading Camp Maryland who are working hard to keep young readers engaged this summer. Our Little Free Libraries restock initiative ensures that readers of all ages have easy access to books close to home.

If your summer adventures have you sticking close to home, there's plenty you can do to support brain gain, combat summer skill loss, and have fun learning together!

  1. Give screens a break. Screen time has its place on long, lazy summer days, but simple creative play is an excellent way to get kids to imagine, think, plan, cooperate, and learn.

  2. Make an "I'm Bored" jar. Have kids brainstorm fun activities, day trips, or other summer treats and write them down on slips of paper. Any time you hear that dreaded "I'm bored!" pull a paper out of the jar.

  3. Get outside. Anne Arundel County is home to beautiful parks, walking and biking trails, beaches, and outdoor spaces. Pick a new one each week and explore!

  4. Go to the library! Visiting the library is one of the simplest ways to support summer brain gain. There's so much to discover at your local Anne Arundel County Public Library branch. Don't forget to register for the Summer @ Your Library challenge!

  5. Find a pen pal. Writing practice becomes less of a chore when kids have a friend to share their summer adventures with. Family members and friends near or far make wonderful pen pals who would love to send and receive drawings, postcards, and letters.

What are some ways your family is learning together this summer? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook!

Mid-Summer Check In

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Mid-Summer Check In

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 14, 2021

Greetings from STAIR Summer Reading!

We've reached the halfway point of the summer and STAIR's summer reading initiatives are going strong. It's been such a pleasure to spread the love of reading to children all across Anne Arundel County!

All 120 students enrolled in our 2020-2021 at-home program continue to receive new books for home libraries every month. So far this summer, we've mailed more than 700 books to young readers. With one final book package set to ship to each student in early August, we're confident that these rising third graders are well on their way to becoming life-long readers. The STAIR-Annapolis Class of 2021 will always have a special place in our hearts because of the joy and enthusiasm with which they embraced our modified program. We send these students on their way to new reading adventures with lots of love and our very best wishes for success.

Not surprisingly, the highlight of the summer for all of us here at STAIR-Annapolis has been STAIR Book Fairs. In addition to the three we originally planned with our partners at the City of Annapolis and the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis--at the Eastport Community Center, Robinwood Community Center, and Stanton Community Center--we also had the opportunity to host a fourth event in South Anne Arundel County at the annual Shady Side 4th of July parade. It was so awesome to see so many familiar faces and to meet so many new friends at these events! We gave away hundreds of free books to young readers of all ages, connected with families, got to share the STAIR story with potential volunteers, and spread the love of reading throughout the communities we serve.

Special thanks to our community partners at the City and HACA who were so supportive of our efforts and helped make these STAIR Book Fairs such a huge success!

STAIR-Annapolis staff and volunteers continue to use donated books to restock Little Free Libraries throughout Anne Arundel County, making sure all readers have easy access to books close to home. If you have books to donate or would like to join us in this important summer initiative, please feel free to contact our Program Manager Julieta Slattery, who is spearheading the LFL program this year. Julieta can be reached at program_manager@stairannapolis.org.

As we've previously shared, STAIR-Annapolis is preparing for a return to in-person programming for the upcoming school year. We are thrilled to be able to go back to normal operations, facilitating one-on-one interaction between second graders in need of reading support and dedicated volunteers who give of their time to help students improve basic literacy skills.

To that end, we're actively recruiting volunteers for every STAIR-Annapolis site. The number of students we can serve grows with every volunteer who commits, so there’s never been a better time to join us! You’ll find more information about volunteering as a STAIR-Annapolis tutor and a link to our volunteer application at https://stairannapolis.org/volunteer/.

In our ongoing efforts to modernize communications, we’re proud to announce a new online resource exclusively for volunteers that complements our webpage for families. The STAIR-Annapolis Volunteer Dashboard is a comprehensive portal with everything you need to tutor with STAIR. We’ve linked training videos for new and returning volunteers, AACPS security and background check requirements, Frequently Asked Questions, tutor tips, and much more, with a printable checklist to help you keep track of it all!

We're really excited about what this year has in store for STAIR-Annapolis and for striving young readers in our community.

Won't you join us?

Did You Know? STAIR Makes a Difference!

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Did You Know? STAIR Makes a Difference!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on July 7, 2021

If you're here, it's a pretty safe bet that you're a fan of reading. It's also likely that you understand how important it is for kids to learn to read well in early elementary school so they're positioned for academic success through middle school and beyond.

The following facts about reading might surprise you. But they also help highlight why programs like STAIR-Annapolis make a real difference in the lives of young readers.

1. Too many students don't read well enough to succeed.

According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only assessment tool that measures American students' knowledge and aptitude in a variety of subjects, 35% of public school 4th graders read below basic achievement level, meaning they have only "partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work" at grade level. You can read more about the NAEP assessment reports here.

The STAIR program works exclusively with second graders reading below grade level. We know how important it is that striving young readers get the extra support they need to catch up to their peers and achieve proficiency before they enter the more academically rigorous middle grades.

2. The "achievement gap" is real...and it matters.

Students who start kindergarten academically behind their peers often keep falling farther behind as they move through school. Language differences, limited exposure to books, and lack of prior knowledge have all been proven to contribute to some kids' reading difficulties. What's more, certain groups of students are far more susceptible to these differences--and corresponding reading challenges--than others.

STAIR targets students at the beginning of their reading adventure, before they have a chance to fall too far behind. We provide new books for home libraries, so kids always have access to high-quality, diverse reading material that matches their interests, and our volunteers are trained to support Anne Arundel County Schools literacy curriculum in an encouraging, one-on-one environment.

3. Learning to read is a complicated process.

Kids need to develop tons of skills simultaneously in order to learn to read well. In a 1990 study, educational researcher Marilyn Adams likened the process of learning to read to operating a car. But if reading is like driving, emerging readers also need to learn to:

  • Build the car (learn to identify letters, words, and sounds)
  • Service the car (gain access to a steady stream of reading material of increasing difficulty)
  • Drive the car (stay focused, motivated, and on track)

Adams went on to say that unlike building a car, reading doesn't happen on an assembly line, with one piece fitting into the next until the car is complete. "Rather, the parts of the reading system must grow together. They must grow on one another and from one another." That can be a lot for a five- or six-year-old to manage! (Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print by Marilyn Jager Adams)

The STAIR curriculum is built to help kids progress through all the moving parts of literacy development. With structured lesson plans, reading games, books, and the passion, creativity, and dedication of our volunteers, kids are able to work on the skills they need to become stronger, more confident readers.

4. Phonics is crucial to reading success.

Studies have shown that kids who struggle to read well very often have difficulty understanding that the sounds they hear in words are linked to specific letters and letter patterns.

When kids don't have a solid foundation in phonics and phonemic awareness--the principle that teaches that words are made up of letter sounds--they may have trouble gaining grade-level reading proficiency.

The STAIR-Annapolis curriculum helps kids strengthen their phonemic awareness. Our program supports Anne Arundel County Public Schools phonics instruction, giving young readers the building blocks for lifelong academic success.

5. A little extra help goes a long way.

The vast majority of below-grade level readers benefit significantly from programs and interventions that let them practice literacy skills like accuracy, fluency, phonemic awareness, and reading comprehension. With a little extra support, these students are often able to reach grade-level achievement or better in a relatively short period of time.

At STAIR, we've seen our students improve an average of more than four Fountas & Pinnell reading levels in a single academic year! Programs like STAIR give striving readers access to one-on-one attention and educator-approved strategies to help significantly boost their reading skills and their self-confidence.

For even more insight into developing readers and the importance of literacy intervention and support programs like STAIR-Annapolis, visit our friends at Reading Rockets.

A July Reading Challenge

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A July Reading Challenge

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on June 30, 2021

Ok, ok, ok. So July doesn't technically start until tomorrow, but it's never too early to jump into a good book!

If you're deep into your summer reading list already, this month's reading challenge should be a breeze. Summertime reading is about freedom--freedom to explore new books or to re-read old favorites without deadlines or commitments. If you don't like a book, skip it! If you find a new author you love, read everything! If you've been longing to revisit a beloved series, lazy summer days are made for comfort reading!

We hope your summer reading list is full of feel-good titles that keep you page-turning well into July's long days and warm nights. What's been your favorite summer read so far this year? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Remember, our friends at Anne Arundel County Public Library have planned an incredible summer of reading for kids, with recommended reading lists, prizes, and fantastic events all summer long. Visit them online or stop by your local AACPL branch for more info or to register for the Summer @ Your Library 2021 program. You can also find recommended reading lists for all grade levels from Anne Arundel County Public Schools here.

For a simple July reading challenge that's easy to adapt to any age, reading level, or genre preference, follow the list below. One book per week, every week this month:

  • Read a book with the word "summer" in the title.
  • Read a book set on the coast or near a body of water.
  • Read a book by an author from your favorite vacation spot.
  • Read a book about a road trip, camping trip, beach vacation, or some other typical summer travel activity.

Good luck! We'll be back next month with a new reading challenge for you. Until then, keep reading!