The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Ozanam Scholars Work to Close NYC Literacy Gap

Five student scholars work to tutor elementary students and have created personal connections in the process.
Read718’s Bedford-Stuyvesant location.
Photo Courtesy / Amaiya Sancho

Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, five St. John’s University students travel in a University-issued van to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. After the 30-minute ride, they enter a building where they are immediately welcomed by dim lighting, endless shelves of children’s books and dozens of smiling children.

These students are in the  Ozanam Scholars program and work as tutors for Read 718, a “Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to building strong confident readers,” according to their website.

Read718 was founded in 2015 by Emily Kirven, a former NYC middle school English teacher who noticed many of her students needed more individual instruction to get them up to reading level. Lessons are at little to no cost for families and the program serves children in grades 3-8. 

The partnership began in Fall 2021, when Anna Zak, the former associate director of Academic Service-Learning, reached out to the non-profit inquiring about volunteer opportunities. The program has sent eight students to the non-profit since its inception, with many students volunteering for more than one semester. 

The scholars participate in two 75-minute sessions per day over a 10-week period, where they tutor one designated child per session. Before they start, the scholars talk with the students about their day. “It’s a great way to bond with my students before we jump into the session,” said sophomore scholar Amaiya Sancho.

Pictured: (from left to right) Jennifer Obiesie, Amaiya Sancho, Sullivan Padgett and Jomarson Milien after a session.
Photo Courtesy / Amaiya Sancho

Lessons are divided into three 25-minute parts: word study, reading comprehension and reading aloud. Each lesson is dependent on the students’ reading level and need. “My students are currently learning about consonant and vowel sounds and blending letter sounds together,” sophomore Sullivan Padgett said. “It’s like teaching a mini lesson.” 

In the reading comprehension portion, students read to the tutors, who correct any mistakes and answer questions about reading concepts. During the last 25 minutes, the tutors read to the students. 

“When working with young children, it’s hard to command their attention for the full 90-minutes,” Padgett said.  He finds that playing educational games — like tic-tac-toe — in between each section is a great way to keep them focused. 

The scholars have made meaningful connections with their students during their time at the program. They get their students birthday and Christmas gifts. They know their students’ strengths and weaknesses. 

“I think that’s one of the important pieces of our program; they are getting instruction from the same tutor each time so that they are able to develop that relationship,” said Kirven. “Kids learn better when they feel comfortable, happy and supported. Creating that bond, even if it’s in 10 weeks, you get to know them. For children, that’s really important.” 

Padgett has been with Read718 since the beginning and has been working with his student Stephan since Fall 2021. The pair have formed an immense bond, and much of the 9-year-old’s success can be attributed to Padgett. “Sullivan makes the reading enjoyable. He always takes his time with me and helps me not only with the words, but also with the comprehension of what I have read,” said Stephan in a statement provided to The Torch by his mother. 

Padgett and his student Stephan during a session.
Photo Courtesy / Read718

The students are assessed every 10 weeks to see if they move up at least one reading level on their reading scale. However, the scholars see improvements in more than just their studies. “I’ve seen improvements with my students not just academically, but also personally. From their eagerness to learn to improved focus, my students have become better readers in the year I’ve been working with them,” sophomore Jennifer Obiesie said. 

Not only have the students grown, but so have the scholars. While improving their tutoring skills, the scholars feel fulfilled in their service. “I’ve grown so much during my time with Read718, it’s satisfying to help others in such a personal way,” said Sancho.

Kirvan dubs the program her “second baby” and acknowledges the profound impact its had on her life. “I started this program in order to harness the strength and power of our community members to provide this really important instruction,” said Kirvan. “I’m always inspired by people who volunteer their time to do this work, because they certainly don’t have to. Our volunteers recognize the real need and that one-on-one attention that the scholars give can truly be transformative for the kids.”

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About the Contributor
Olivia Seaman
Olivia Seaman, Editor-in-Chief

Olivia is a senior journalism student currently serving as The Torch’s Editor-in-Chief. She previously served as Managing Editor for two years. She's also written for amNewYork, Bronx Times and QNS. Outside of The Torch, she is a student ambassador and an undergraduate writing consultant at the University Writing Center. She loves to watch St. John's Basketball, exploring New York City and matcha lattes!

Olivia can be reached at [email protected]  
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