For years one of the city’s premier tutoring programs has had to say “I’m sorry” to a long waiting list of kids who desperately need help to start reading at an early age.
That’s about to change, as New Haven Reads Friday morning cut the ribbon on a shining new 2,000 square foot site in the Marlin Building business complex at 85 Willow St., the organization’s fourth site in town.
The location, in a renovated space on the second floor of the old Marlin firearms factory’s Building A, will be home to about 150 tutors and their new kids, mainly from grades kindergarten through fifth, for a once-a-week sessions. The site will open early in April, said New Haven Reads Executive Director Kirsten Levinsohn.
A battery of already excellent readers — and writers — of the East Rock Community Magnet School newspaper The East Rock Record were in attendance for the opening festivities.
They sat in the first row in the brightly lit and painted new space paying rapt reportorial attention to speakers, who included Mayor Toni Harp, and New Haven State Reps. Roland Lemar and Toni Walker and State Sen. Gary Winfield.
These officials, who helped secure grant money for the new center, used small red, blue, and green colored kid scissors to cut the ribbon.
Levinsohn said that the state’s recent $160,000 grant for two years to New Haven Reads has helped mightily in the 15-year-old organization’s ability to open this fourth New Haven site. The other three are all in the Dixwell/ Science Park area.
The organization currently serves about 500 kids with 400 tutors, largely in one-on-one tutoring, but also with a summer program, clubs, and a book bank, she reported.
NHR is known for being highly organized and evidence based, with a structured, productive hour tailored to each child. About 95 percent of the kids in the program raise their reading levels, some dramatically, said Susan Netter.
Nette, a former high school English teacher, has been an NHR tutor for seven years. Netter said she is currently reading graphic action material with a boy tutee and a book called The School Mouse with her girl tutee. The girl has a pet hamster at home, named Hazel. “She loves mice.”
The tutors get to know their kids and their school and home lives well, becoming mentors. About 46 percent of the tutors have been with their kids for two years or more, said the group’s outreach coordinator, Keri Humphries. Levinsohn has been tutoring the same two kids for six years. One of them calls her her “fairy godmother,” she reported.
Winfield told a story to the young reporters from The East Rock Record of how a single book about the civil rights movement lying on the shelf in his childhood home got his attention. He said he didn’t think the book, the only one in the house, had even been read by his father. Winfield picked it up. It drew him in, led him to other books,and to other opportunities, and, in effect, transformed his life, he told the kids.
He said he frequently drops by NHR, especially in the summer, and reads to the kids. “I’m a serial reader. I’m a [NHR] board member. I’m all in,” he said.
One of the The East Rock Record reporters asked Winfield the prescription for converting a kid to reading. “I’m an advocate of a kid reading whatever they want,” just as he had done, Winfield responded.
Levinsohn said the facility a month ago did not have the spiffy new rugs, furniture, books, and paint job, but now it does. The center still needs new iPads, tablets, and educational games to help kids read. That’s all itemized on the website, where people can go to contribute.
About 45 percent of the group’s tutors are college students, many from Yale and Southern. The new site’s proximity to the East Rock neighborhood will be a plus for tutor recruitment. The location, so close to Wilbur Cross High School, will also make it easier to recruit more tutors there; currently about 50 of the 400 tutors are high school kids, said Tanya Smith, the group’s educational director.
And, of course, East Rock Community Magnet School is right across Willow Street from the new site.
Access to tutors will now no longer be a schlep across town for the many Fair Haven kids involved in the program, and the new site is both along a bus line and also almost within sight of the exit from Highway 91, making it easier for tutors, for example, from the Shoreline communities to come to their after-school appointments and to park easily at the Wilbur Cross High School parking lot.
The annual budget of New Haven Reads is $650,000, with about half coming from individual donations, and half from foundations’ support and other grants, Levinsohn added.