How to help

To learn more or volunteer with Reading Partners Charleston, go to: readingpartners.org/charleston or call 860-3915.

A homegrown, literacy-focused volunteer group has joined forces with a national nonprofit, and it hopes the merger will enable it to expand its program to all of Charleston County’s high-poverty elementary schools.

Charleston Volunteers for Literacy, which runs the Book Buddies program, has transitioned into Reading Partners Charleston. The Charleston group will be the 11th regional branch of the California-based Reading Partners.

Kecia Greenho, the Charleston group’s executive director, will continue in her role, and she said the program’s focus won’t change. The biggest difference will be the group’s new and expanded capacity to serve students.

Book Buddies launched in spring 2009 with first-graders in two high-poverty Charleston schools, and it had grown to serve about 400 students in eight high-poverty schools this year. Reading Partners Charleston’s new goal is to be in all 17 of the school district’s high-poverty elementary schools within three years.

“With the support of dedicated Charlestonians, Reading Partners is opening doors of opportunity for children throughout our community,” Greenho said.

The national nonprofit Reading Partners worked with more than 5,000 low-income students in six states last year. Reading Partners Charleston will continue its core work of coordinating local volunteers who work one-on-one with weak readers. Volunteer tutors receive individualized lesson plans to address students’ deficiencies.

Literacy is Charleston County School District’s top priority, and it has literacy academies in first through third grades for the worst readers. Reading Partners Charleston will offer tutoring services to students in fourth and fifth grades, as well as first- through third-graders who don’t qualify for the literacy academies but still need extra help.

“Together with the district, we’re meeting the needs of the whole cohort of students,” Greenho said.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley has described Book Buddies in the past as the “Mercedes-Benz” of partnerships because it’s more strategic than most volunteer efforts, and it measures its success.

“Reading Partners Charleston provides a vital service by connecting community members with students in their communities who are struggling to read,” she said. “The program directly supports (the school district’s) focused effort on literacy improvement as the cornerstone for achievement overall.”

The Charleston group did a trial last year of a partnership with Reading Partners, which also offers customized lesson plans for students that can be adjusted. Greenho said they saw growth in students’ scores.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.