Odessa-area resident Eric Holleran is thinking a lot about test scores these days.
But it’s not his grades that the Caravel Academy honor student is concerned about.
Instead, the 17-year-old senior is focused on the reading scores of nearly two dozen first- through fourth-graders who attend after-school programs at the Clarence Fraim Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington.
“The U.S. Department of Justice says two-thirds of students who can’t read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or dependent on welfare,” he said. “That’s why I really want to help these kids, because if I can help them love to read, I might be able to help improve their lives.”
Eric is being given a chance to do just that through a $1,000 grant he earned by being selected as Delaware’s lone National Child Awareness Month Youth Ambassador.
Starting next month, he and about 10 peers will spend one hour a week for six months tutoring children at the Boys and Girls Club in reading and writing.
“My goal is to help them improve their grades, but I’m also hoping to help them grow personally by showing them that people who enjoy school aren’t the geeks and nerds that society makes them out to be,” he said. “I want them to learn that reading is actually fun and, hopefully because we’ll all be high school students instead of adults, they’ll feel like it’s a sort of cool, too.”
Now in its second year, the youth ambassador program is a partnership between Youth Service America and the Festival of Children Foundation that funds and trains young adults to make a positive impact on the lives of children in their community.
Eric said he learned about the program from a school advisor and geared his grant proposal to address literacy after hearing Delaware First Lady Carla Markell speak to the Delaware Association of Student Councils about her efforts to acquire books for the Ferris School for Boys in Wilmington.
“Until then, I was ignorant about how big an issue literacy is in America,” he said. “I was under the impression that everyone could read but once I started working on my grant application I learned that 32 million adults can’t read and 21 percent of adults read below a fifth-grade level.”
Reading ability also appears to be directly linked to crime.
According to commonly cited statistics attributed to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, nearly 85 percent of juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate while more than 70 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade reading level.
Page 2 of 2 - Eric said that’s why he’s hopeful that the lesson plans he’s developing with assistance from Caravel Academy’s staff will have an impact on the lives of students at the Boys and Girls Club.
“My plan is to divide the students up into pods of four or five based on grade level and then assess where they stand academically,” he said. “Then we’ll specialize our instruction each week to provide the lessons we think those kids need.”
While Eric has previously volunteered at the Corbit-Calloway Memorial Library and Christiana Hospital, this will be his first foray into tutoring, outside of helping his 7-year-old sister Emma with her homework.
To help prepare him for the launch of his project, titled “Read For Life. Read For You,” Eric is spending part of this week in Washington D.C., where he and 50 other youth ambassadors will receive training in building his project and working with public officials, including U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) with whom he’ll get a chance to discuss literacy, as well as college tuition costs.
“I’m taking the train down to D.C. and I’ve never been on a train before, so I’m probably more nervous about that than I am about tutoring the kids,” he Monday. “Mostly, I’m just excited about meeting them and I hope I get to learn as much from them as they learn from me.”