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Osage Middle School looking for an RSVP

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For anyone 55 years or older who loves to read, there is an opportunity to help a student in need just in time for the giving spirit of the season.

West Hancock Pen Pals

The RSVP program has expanded to the Osage Community School District. Above, West Hancock Elementary students Mia Sanchez, right, and Carson Fox, left, write to their RSVP pen pals in 2019.

This year, Osage Middle School is partnering with RSVP of North Central Iowa to establish a Reading Coach program in fifth and sixth grades, according to a RSVP press release. Volunteers will work with students to improve fluency, comprehension and confidence in reading.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with RSVP and starting a Reading Coach program,” said Meaghan Johnson, Osage Middle School teacher and instructional coach. “The impact a caring and older adult can have on adolescents is incredible.”

A few years ago, RSVP wrote an expansion grant to serve Mitchell and Franklin counties. COVID-19 delayed the beginning of the programs, which included Reading Buddy, for elementary school literacy tutoring; Pen Pal, for letter-writing; and Reading Coach, for middle school literacy.

Meaghan Johnson

Meaghan Johnson, Osage Middle School teacher and instructional coach.

Molly Anderegg has been RSVP Director of Volunteer Services at North Iowa Area Community College for 10 years. She is a native of Mason City. In 2009, the RSVP program came to NIACC, therefore it was 10 years later before it expanded to Mitchell County.

“We’re bringing it to Osage because it works well with the school,” Anderegg said. “Our Reading Buddy and Pen Pals have been going strong. The middle school program can be a little more difficult to get up and running.”

Earlier this year, the Osage Middle School reached out to Anderegg, she said, stating they had a need for volunteers to read with students. Anderegg saw it as perfect timing to begin the Reading Coach program, which is similar to Reading Buddy but for older students.

Volunteers spend 20 to 30 minutes reading together with a student.

Molly Anderegg

Molly Anderegg, RSVP Volunteer Coordinator at NIACC

“When we came to Mitchell County a few years ago, we included the Reading Coach program as an option to volunteer with,” Anderegg said. “Last year was not a good year to start the program. With more precautions, we hope volunteers can get back to serving in schools.”

At that time, there were a handful of volunteers for the various programs, but COVID-19 changed RSVP’s course. After the delay, RSVP focused on elementary programs first.

As of today, there is one volunteer for Reading Coach at the Osage Middle School.

“We need Reading Coach volunteers who would like to read with adolescents,” Anderegg said. She is looking for people from Osage or surrounding communities.

There are also Reading Buddy programs in Riceville Community School District and St. Ansgar Community School District.

Anderegg said the goal is to get students back on track with reading as soon as possible.

“But there’s still a need for some students, even once they reach middle school,” she said. “It is important to get a struggling reader as much help as they can when the subjects start to include a lot of reading material, such as history, social studies, science. If you struggle with reading, you can struggle in all of your subjects.

“Many don’t like to read. You don’t like to do what you’re not good at. Volunteers want to help students explore reading in a more positive way.”

According to RSVP, middle school is often the last chance struggling readers have to improve their skills, so extra attention from a caring adult can be one way to help them find success. Studies show those who cannot read proficiently are four times more likely to drop out of school. The Reading Coach program focuses on helping students before they move on to harder subject matter in later grades.

Anderegg believes RSVP volunteers are passionate about reading with students, because they know the importance of reading not just in school, but for life. Many are avid readers, and they want to share their love of reading.

“We’re happy to provide these volunteers,” Anderegg said. “And we’re hopeful people will step forward to help students improve their reading.”

For more information about becoming a reading coach at Osage Middle School, call RSVP Volunteer Coordinator Alison Mason at 888-466-4222, extension 4255, or email alison.mason@niacc.edu.

Volunteers will receive training and resources as an orientation for helping students.

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