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Afterschool and Community Programs

How Community Groups Can Serve Children Who Most Need Help

Helping kids learn to read is a great goal for community groups. An important step for all groups is to not only define how to help, but also to identify the children in the community who could must benefit from what you do. This article provides tips for finding and serving these children.

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Helping kids learn to read is a great goal for community groups. This help can take the form of a tutoring program, an afterschool program, the giving of books or resources, and much more. It can be offered by faith-based organizations, alumni groups, service groups such as Kiwanis or Rotary, or public institutions like the library.

An important step for all groups is to not only define how to help, but also to identify the children in the community who could must benefit from what you do.

These children can include those in Title I programs, children with disabilities, linguistically and culturally diverse children, children from migrant families, and preschool children. The following article provides tips for finding and serving these children.

Children who participate in Title I programs

The Title I program provides funds to help high-poverty schools improve the educational achievement of children who may fail to meet academic standards. Nearly 9 million children participate in Title I programs. About 95 percent of school districts receive Title I funds. A majority of these children are in kindergarten through third grade, and most receive extra help in reading. Title I children would benefit greatly from being included in your community program.

Tips for finding and serving these children:

  1. Contact your local school districts to obtain the names of Title I coordinators.
    • The Title I coordinator can help identify children who need reading assistance and can help the site coordinate its activities with ongoing reading activities in the school, including summer school programs.
    • Title I programs may offer a ready supply of reading partners through the schools’ ongoing efforts to get parents involved in their children’s learning.
    • Many Title I staff are trained reading specialists whose expertise can be useful in planning programs, training tutors in effective teaching strategies, and selecting appropriate materials.
    • The training and expertise of Title I staff may be helpful in evaluating your program.
    • If your program serves Title I students, Title I funds may be available to pay for materials, training, and related activities.
  2. Ask the Title I coordinator or local schools to contact families with Title I children and tell them about your program.
  3. Encourage Title I staff to stay involved with your program. Ask them to follow up with tutors, and to provide additional training when necessary.


Children with disabilities

Actively including children with disabilities in your community program will allow you to celebrate individual differences and enhance the learning program for all participants. While you may need special assistance to serve some children with disabilities, the vast majority of children with disabilities are not severely impaired and can be included with minimal accommodations.

Tips for finding and serving these children:

  1. Establish a philosophy of inclusion.
    • Build your program on a philosophy that says all children benefit from services that value and recognize the importance of diversity.
    • Attract volunteers who can help you support inclusion by describing your intention to reach out to children with disabilities.
    • Include children with disabilities in your promotional materials.
  2. Get help from the local school system.
    • Contact the director of special education in the local school districts you are serving. Most children with disabilities are served through the special education support system provided at school.
    • Ask local schools to contact families who have children with special needs and tell them about your program.
    • Meet with the teachers and parents of children with disabilities who will be in your program. Consult with teachers about what specialized materials, if any, might be needed, what approaches and techniques are successful, and what kinds of adaptations a child may need to participate.
  3. Link volunteers with potential trainers.
    • Establish partnerships with local school personnel, especially the Director of Special Education, special education teachers, and therapists. They may be able to provide training and materials for your program, and information about best practices.
    • Encourage school personnel to stay involved with your program, to follow up with tutors, and to provide additional training when necessary.
    • Establish partnerships with parents who can provide support and training to volunteers who will work with their children.
    • Ask whether special education offices in local school districts can provide training for tutors on the best ways to work with children who may have disabilities that have not yet been identified.
    • Contact the local Directors of Special Education if you suspect that a child appears to have an unidentified learning disability. If a child needs to be formally referred to special education, this referral should be made by certified school district personnel.
  4. Select locations that are accessible to children and adults with disabilities.


  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (opens in a new window)

    The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is dedicated to improving results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts.

  • The Director of Special Education who works for your local school district.
  • National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (opens in a new window)

    The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities provides information about disabilities in children and youth; programs and services for infants, children, and youth with disabilities; IDEA, the nation’s special education law; No Child Left Behind, the nation’s general education law; and research-based information on effective practices for children with disabilities.

Children who are linguistically and culturally diverse

America’s linguistically and culturally diverse families bring valuable assets to our country, but their children do not always have access to high-quality education programs that address their special linguistic needs. Opportunities to read in their native language and in English will get children involved in literacy experiences that can lead to academic success, greater job opportunities, and fulfillment in life.

Tips for finding and serving these children:

  1. Contact your local school and ask the bilingual or English as a Second Language office to identify children who most need help in reading. Inform the families about your program.
  2. Welcome parents to your reading program; they are the first and most important teachers of their children. Encourage family members to read together each night in their native language or English, and to visit the library monthly.
  3. Reach out to language-minority children and parents about the importance of your reading program through presentations at community events.
  4. Encourage parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, community members, and older students to become tutors.
  5. Recruit volunteer tutors and advertise your reading program through local native-language television and radio stations, newspapers, newsletters, and community bulletin boards. Post notices in English and in the native language. If translation help is needed, contact your school or district bilingual/English as a Second Language office.
  6. Conduct the tutoring sessions at a convenient location, such as a school, community center, church, temple, or apartment complex. Carefully consider the best time for all participants. Many parents work long hours and children often must care for younger siblings.
  7. High-interest story books for your program should be available in English and in the child’s native language. More books are being published in languages other than English each year. Ask your local library and school to help you find developmentally appropriate books.
  8. Read in English or in the child’s native language, depending on the comfort level of the child. Children have the capacity to learn to read in more than one language. A child who has developed reading skills in his or her native language can quickly transfer them to English.
  9. Select tutors who can appreciate the child’s language and cultural diversity. Tutor training should stress attention to individual student’s needs, a positive outlook, flexibility, patience, and cultural sensitivity.
  10. Collaborate with a parental literacy program, religious organization, local business, or college in order to recruit tutors, obtain materials, and locate funding sources. If a parental literacy program is not available for language-minority parents, start one in your community.


Children from migrant families

Migrant agricultural families are highly mobile. Migrant children experience many obstacles to school success because of language differences, significant poverty, and disruptions in school attendance as a result of their families’ work.

Although they may work in communities for only a few weeks, migrant families have strong ethnic identities and come from cultures rich in oral tradition. Include them in your reading program. Encourage children to share stories, songs, and games in their native language. Research shows that language development builds a strong foundation for reading ability and achievement in every language.

Tips for finding and serving these children:

  1. Before families enter your community to work in the fields, contact the local migrant education director or recruiter, local migrant services council, or local agricultural employers (growers and processors) to prepare for migrant family involvement in your program and to identify children who most need help.
  2. Recruit families using the families’ native languages. (Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, Laotian, and Haitian Creole are among the languages spoken by migrant families.)
  3. Support programs for migrant children by aligning tutors’ schedules with classes that have already been scheduled for school and Head Start. Recruit middle school and high school youth as reading partners for preschool and elementary school children.
  4. Schedule tutoring time with parents and children on weekends and evenings to accommodate seasonal work schedules.
  5. Encourage local partners to provide incentives such as prepaid phone calling cards, native language films/videos, food, and games for families and their children who participate in your program.
  6. Expand the concept of “home visits” to include visits to migrant camps, community centers, processing facilities, or churches where several families may be identified and served together.
  7. Encourage families to share their family stories, traditions, songs, and games. Create bilingual “books” with students based on their oral traditions. Recruit older children to help translate and write the stories. Follow up by reading a book or story in English that offers a similar theme or idea.
  8. Find ways to keep in touch with children as they travel. Include simple maps, pre-stamped post cards, checklists of where children are going, sights they’ll see, famous people who have preceded them, or books that relate to the families’ journey.


Children who are preschool-age

Including preschool children in your community program can increase its effectiveness. The roots of literacy begin in the play of young children, long before children start formal reading instruction.

In addition to reading and telling stories to young children, early literacy activities include talking, listening to others talk, listening to music, engaging in dramatic play, painting, scribbling, drawing, and building with blocks. Because babies begin learning at birth, it is never too early to begin reading to young children.

Tips for finding and serving these children:

  1. When extending services to children from birth through age 5 who do not yet attend school, link to an existing early care and education program. Or, if you already have a program that serves school-age children, begin a program for the younger siblings of children you already serve.
  2. Encourage the parents of young children to read at home, or help them improve their own reading skills.
  3. Assign reading partners who can lead literacy-building activities with young children or can show parents what kinds of activities to do at home.
  4. Older children can serve as reading partners for younger children. This pairing will give both older and younger children an opportunity to improve their reading skills.
  5. Your program should take into account the types of services already available in your community. Early childhood services are often provided by a number of different groups and programs.


Below is a list of early child care, education, and recreation programs that may be offered in your community. Federal contacts are included in case you need help locating your local counterpart or if you are interested in model program information.

Your local chamber of commerce may also have a list of early childhood resources. Your local school district may offer preschool programs through an Even Start Family Literacy Program, Title I, special education, or a locally or state funded program.


Adapted from: Tip Sheets for Finding and Serving Children Who Most Need Help in Reading. (1998). America Reads Challenge Resource Kit. America Reads Challenge, U.S. Department of Education.

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