Literacy Lab aims to close reading gap for D.C. children

(WJLA) - Five days a week, 20 minutes a day, first-grader Dez-Juan Adams goes to the "Reading Lab," a small room in his school library, to work one-on-one with a trained reading tutor.

He is one of 40 students at Walker Jones Education Center in grades kindergarten through third grade getting personalized reading help as part of the Metro D.C. Reading Corps program.

Dez-Juan and the other students in the program have been identified as those most a risk and those most likely to benefit from a personalized reading plan focused on improving phonics and fluency.

Second-grader Kamia Brown practices "duet reading" with her totor, Kim Lindegren.

"Duet reading provides a little bit of modeling," Lindegren explained. "If they need any help with the words, they usually get them by the last read-through."

"Then when I read it again, again and again, I'll get better at it," Kamia agreed.

The tutors track the student's progress on a weekly basis. When they reach their grade level, they "graduate" from the program.

"The kids are really excited when they see that they're progressing and their scores are getting high," said tutor Tamra Johnson.

Assistant Principal Zara Berry-Young says the program is having a positive impact.

"We are seeing phenomenal results with our students," she said. "Our students are excited about it, so we're excited about it. And hopefully this will bring that literacy gap to a smaller, and smaller level."

And that is the goal, says Tom Dillon with Literacy Lab, the nonprofit organization that launched the D.C. program.

"Reading is really the key to all academic achievement, and if we can successfully close the literacy gap, we'll go a long way to closing the achievement gap," he said.