Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on April 7, 2021

Volunteers are at the heart of the STAIR-Annapolis organization. We're so fortunate to have a strong team of volunteer tutors helping our students improve their reading skills and boost their self-confidence. This year, we've had more than 150 of those volunteers join us on our STAIR At Home adventure and countless more cheering us on as they await a return to in-person tutoring. Their unwavering dedication and support have made it possible for STAIR-Annapolis to continue to serve young readers.

Like all of our community partners serving youth in education, STAIR-Annapolis has been striving valiantly this past year to safely provide the programming kids need and families rely on. Despite the incredible challenges brought about by the global pandemic, we've experienced real growth, serving our largest student enrollment to date, building digital systems that engage families, staying connected to our volunteers, and offering students a flexible, safe way to get the reading support they need whenever it's most convenient for them.

None of this would be possible without our amazing volunteers!

Nearly everything on the STAIR At Home family website has been submitted by volunteers, from read-aloud videos recorded by Guest Readers and mini literacy lessons from Tutorial Coaches to at-home activities and tips provided by Research Aides. The webpage has become a go-to site for students and their grown-ups to access quality reading resources and fun new ways to share the joy of reading at home. With an average of more than 100 visits per month, we know this content is making a real difference in the lives of STAIR At Home students.

Monthly Book Clubs have been another wonderful way for our volunteers to connect virtually with students (sometimes their siblings and pets join in, too!). By meeting regularly to read together and discuss books, our volunteers have been able to replicate the meaningful relationships that develop between tutor and student over the course of a typical year of in-person programming. More than 35% of STAIR At Home students have attended at least one virtual Book Club, even though kids already spend long days at the computer for e-learning. We've had students log on from daycare centers, from a parent's workplace, even from the backseat of a car! It's so heartening to know that families believe in this program and in the work of our volunteers so much that they're willing to make STAIR At Home Book Club a priority whenever they can.

The final volunteer-driven component of the STAIR At Home program is our very popular Pen Pal exchange. Every STAIR At Home student has been paired with a volunteer Pen Pal and receives a new letter in his or her monthly book package. That means every month, every STAIR student gets a small reminder that someone is thinking of them and interested in what they're doing, wishing them well, encouraging their literacy development, and showing kindness during a really tough time. It's such a simple thing, but it means so much.

This Volunteer Appreciation Month, we couldn't possibly be more grateful for all the ways our volunteers have stepped up and shown up for students. We know nothing could ever replace the delight of building a one-on-one relationship, seeing a child's smiling face each week, helping a young reader develop new skills, or sharing the simple pleasure of reading a good book together, but we want to be sure our volunteers--all of our volunteers--know just how much they mean to us and just how much their efforts are appreciated.

From all of us at STAIR-Annapolis, thank you.


An April Reading Challenge

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

An April Reading Challenge

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on March 31, 2021

April showers might bring May flowers, but what we're really excited about is that it's National Poetry Month!

This month, we'd like you to explore all the beautiful, wonderful, expressive, emotive poetry you can.

According to this great post from Proud to Be Primary, exposure to poetry can help young readers build better speaking and listening skills, explore language and new vocabulary, become better writers, think creatively, and develop a life-long love of reading.

For older readers, this article featured on Brightly reminds us that poetry is a powerful medium that holds music and history, teaches us patience, lets us share our feelings, and gives us a way to empathize with the feelings and experiences of others.

For a simple April 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 poetry anthology.
  • Read a book of classic or ancient poems.
  • Listen to poetry: Borrow or buy a poetry audiobook, find a poetry reading video online, or attend a virtual poetry reading.
  • Make a list of your three favorite songs and read the lyrics for each one. That's poetry! Sites like AZLyrics and lyrics.com are a great starting point, with repositories of thousands of song lyrics spanning decades and genres.

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

STAIR At Home March Book of the Month: The Most Magnificent Thing

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

STAIR At Home March Book of the Month: The Most Magnificent Thing

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on March 24, 2021

Every month, STAIR staff thoughtfully selects the STAIR At Home Book of the Month. Each STAIR At Home student receives their very own, brand new copy of this book in addition to the other titles included in their monthly book packages. Students and volunteers use the Book of the Month to guide their discussions in our monthly STAIR At Home virtual Book Clubs.

The March Book of the Month is The Most Magnificent Thing, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires.

One day, a little girl has a great idea: She's going to build The Most Magnificent Thing. She knows exactly what it will look like, exactly how it will work, and she makes things all the time. How hard could it be? She enlists the help of her trusty canine assistant and gets to work. Unfortunately, things don't go according to her plans and the girl gets really, really frustrated. Angry, even. Her faithful assistant convinces her to take a walk to calm down and when they return to their work, the girl is feeling much, much better. So much better, in fact, that she is able to create her Most Magnificent Thing!

This sweet picture book by award-winning children's author and illustrator Ashley Spires helps kids understand that having big feelings is a normal part of growing and learning and that not giving up can have really great rewards. It's an important lesson in creativity, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles for young readers in the early stages of developing emotional maturity.

The Most Magnificent Thing is also a fantastic introduction to the world of S.T.E.M education--Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The girl tinkers and fidgets and measures and hammers and fastens her way to creating her thing. She experiments, she tests, she tweaks, and she tries again. The book presents young readers with lots of S.T.E.M.-related vocabulary in a funny, engaging way that's easy to understand. Spires' beautiful illustrations help kids make connections between the new words they're reading and concepts they may already know. 

It's been such a pleasure to share this book with students in our STAIR At Home Book Clubs this month. The kids have really enjoyed discussing it and we've had some excellent conversations about what each of the girl's inventions might do, what students would build for their own Most Magnificent Thing, and how good things can happen when you don't give up!

You can read more about Ashley Spires here or visit www.ashleyspires.com.

We'll have more to share next month, when we introduce our April Book of the Month: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. 

STAIR’s COVID Pivot, One Year Later

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

STAIR's COVID Pivot, One Year Later

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on March 17, 2021

March 12, 2021 marked one year since the coronavirus pandemic forced STAIR to suspend in-person tutoring. Both hard to believe and impossible to forget, in nearly equal measure.

The world is certainly a much different place today than it was on March 12, 2020, but for STAIR, the important things haven't changed: the dedication of our wonderful volunteers, the support of our community partners, and the thrill of sharing the joy of reading with second graders.

STAIR At Home grew out of our desire to offer our students and their grown-ups a way to continue their reading adventures in safety and with more flexibility, mindful of the unprecedented challenges families were (and still are) facing as a result of the global health crisis.

To date, STAIR At Home serves 120 second-grade readers, our largest enrollment ever.

We've sent 720 monthly book packages and more than 2,000 brand new books for students' home libraries.

Students and STAIR At Home volunteers have exchanged dozens of Pen Pal letters, have met in live virtual Book Clubs, and have shared stories and resources through our secure family website.

According to the most recent assessment data from our partners at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, STAIR students are on pace to achieve grade-level reading or better by the end of the school year.

We're incredibly proud of STAIR At Home, and we're so fortunate to have had so many helpers along on this journey with us. Our volunteers, who have worked tirelessly to ensure students stay engaged and encouraged; our STAIR At Home families, who have embraced this program in ways that have exceeded our wildest expectations; our friends at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to assist us; our community partners and donors, who have continued to offer their generous financial support; and our amazing second grader readers, who have been such bright lights and are improving their reading skills every day.

No matter what the next 365 days have in store, STAIR will keep moving forward for the benefit of our students!

A March Reading Challenge

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

A March Reading Challenge

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on March 10, 2021

We postponed our March reading challenge in order to write last week about Read Across America, so we all have some catching up to do this month!

March is National Reading Month and Women's History Month, and our reading challenge is a great way to discover new authors and titles to add to your bookshelves.

Books can serve as mirrors in which we can see ourselves and identify with the stories of others through shared experiences, or windows through which we can gain empathy and insight into the experiences of others from their perspective. When we open ourselves to the richness of the many voices speaking through literature, we can begin to see our world more clearly. Isn't the power of books amazing!?

For a simple March 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. An added challenge this Women's History Month: Every book you choose must be written by a woman!

  • Read an autobiography of a famous female history-maker. Let her tell you her story in her own words!
  • Read a book written by a female author born at least 10 years before or after you.
  • Read a book translated from another language. 
  • Read a nonfiction book about a significant moment in women's history or about women's contributions to a significant moment in American history (i.e. the American Revolution, Seneca Falls Convention, the Civil War, the suffrage movement, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, Title IX, etc.)

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

STAIR Celebrates Read Across America

Neon New Year Facebook Cover

STAIR Celebrates Read Across America

Posted by STAIR-Annapolis on March 3, 2021

It's a great month to be a reader!

March is National Reading Month, and we celebrate Read Across America this week.

The National Education Association (NEA) founded Read Across America in 1998, deliberately centering the event on the popular works of Dr. Seuss in order to get kids (and their grown-ups) excited about reading. The association proved very successful, and Read Across America is now widely celebrated by school children across the country.

For the past several years, however, the NEA has made a concerted effort to distance itself from Dr. Seuss. As of August 2019, Read Across America no longer has any ties to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which means the Cat in the Hat and other Seuss characters don't appear in any official Read Across America marketing or promotional materials. Now, the NEA encourages schools and libraries to observe Read Across America by "Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers," planning events and activities that embrace a broader, more varied range of children's books.

Why this shift away from Dr. Seuss, beloved by generations of readers?

The answer is pretty simple, really: Children's literature is much bigger than a single author!

From readacrossamerica.org:

There’s a growing need for schools and libraries to include and promote diverse books. Students need books that provide both windows and mirrors if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized, and who understand that the world is far richer than just their experiences alone. NEA recognizes the need to work with a more diverse array of reading organizations and publishers to fulfill this need.

When we make time to read with kids, children get the message that reading is important and fun. When we read books that accurately and compassionately represent characters of all races, genders, and backgrounds, students discover their own voices and learn from the voices of others.

That's the goal of Read Across America, and we think that's something worth celebrating!

If you'd like to learn more about Read Across America, including recommended reading lists, fun activities that celebrate all readers, and ways to add more diversity to your bookshelves at home, here are some excellent resources to get you started:

Anne Arundel County Public Schools AACPS Unites: Celebrating Diversity in Literacy
The National Education Association Read Across America
8 Ideas to Celebrate Read Across America
Diversify Your Bookshelf (with FREE printable checklist!)