Nonprofit Spotlight: The Reading Academy

Over a decade ago, schools were sometimes labeled as dropout factories. Out of this controversy, an organization came to life in Wayne County. Under the guidance of Rick Ahaus and Dick Jones, two concerned citizens, The Reading Academy was started.

The Reading Academy’s mission is to ensure that every Third Grader in Richmond knows how to read at grade level by the end of third grade. 

What was formerly known as the Third Grade Academy has been rebranded The Reading Academy, still focusing on third grade, but expanding to catch all children up who are not yet reading at grade level. Why is it so important, especially for third graders, to know how to read? What does that have to do with dropout rates? Studies show that around 16% of children who have trouble reading in the third grade will not graduate high school on time. One great way to understand why reading by third grade is critical is until fourth-grade education largely consists of learning how to read. In fourth grade, students need know how to read and comprehend what they are reading. This shift can cause some students to get left behind, especially in lower-income families.    

Surprising Statistics   

A shocking statistic is a correlation between the low proficiency rates of students and their family’s level of income. One great way to understand why reading by third grade is critical is until fourth-grade education consists of learning how to read. 6.6 million children are at risk of dropping out of school because they cannot read at their grade level. In Indiana, 76% of children below or near the poverty line read below grade level. To put it in perspective, 15% of children in Wayne County and 13% in Union County live below the poverty line.  

Statistics like these are the reason that Ahaus and Jones decided to begin The Reading Academy. Fourteen years later, the organization is thriving. Despite some challenges during COVID-19, the teachers who work for The Reading Academy are determined to help children succeed.    

What Makes The Reading Academy Different?   

The origin of this organization is only one of the exciting things about The Reading Academy. They utilize an open learning environment; this means there are no walls. The students are not in a classroom which makes this learning environment feel less like summer school. They also focus on one-on-one learning with the students.    

This organization is committed to the 10:1 rule, meaning that there is one teacher for every ten students. Each group of students also has a student teacher making the ratio is even lower at five students per teacher. This one-to-one attention allows teachers to build connections with their students. Teachers learn things the students enjoy and will enable them to read about them.    

For example, if one of their students is interested in animals, then their learning revolves around this topic. It keeps the students interested and engaged in the content that the teacher is giving them. Not only do the teachers assess their reading skills, but they also assess their mental and emotional health. Students’ emotions are tied to everything that they do, so by intertwining this into the curriculum, they can intervene and redirect when one tactic is not working. They also have two interventionalist provided by the Richmond School Corporation who assess children and determine a plan of action.    

Overcoming COVID-19   

In 2020, 78 children participated in The Reading Academy’s summer reading program. Because of COVID-19, the staff had to be creative and find a way to teach children without having them in the classroom. These dedicated and highly qualified teachers decided to do house calls with each student twice a week. They would go outside and teach their students to read for a few hours.    

After overcoming the challenges of 2020, The Reading Academy could meet in one location instead of many. Getting back to normal was a relief for many parents who rely on the transportation provided by Richmond Schools. Teachers can teach in one spot and see all of their student’s smiling faces.    

Partnership with Richmond Schools   

Students who participate in the summer reading program get on the bus each morning and are given two meals during the school day. The Reading Academy works closely with the Richmond School Corporation to provide kids with the best experiences possible.   

Students receive an invitation to the summer reading program if they have not passed their IREAD-3 Exam. IREAD-3 assesses a child’s reading proficiency, and children who do not pass are at risk of struggling in fourth grade. Once the children receive an invitation the summer reading program, teachers can refer students for extra summer reading help. Most students are from the Richmond schools, but students from around the county participate.    

Parents concerned about their third-grader’s reading proficiency during the 2021-2021 school year should contact their children’s teachers about the summer reading program of 2022.   

Future Growth   

The Reading Academy has grown tremendously in the last 14 years. They can help more students than ever before. Every student who needs it deserves extra help to become a better reader. Their goal is to grow by 70% and teach more children than ever before. This plan includes expanding to enroll 4th-grade students as well as 3rd-grade students.  

In the summer of 2021, they enrolled 125 children, which is a 25% increase from previous years. This growth puts them closer to their ultimate goal of ensuring that all students in Richmond are reading proficiently by 3rd grade.    

Partnership and Collaboration   

In 2021, United Way of Whitewater Valley supported the growth and expansion of The Reading Academy to combat the learning gap caused by COVID-19. In April of 2021, they received $11,500 from our 2020-2021 annual grant. Then in May of 2021, they received an additional $36,000, which was specifically for the expansion of their 2021 summer program.  

As a supporter of nonprofits in Wayne and Union counties, we know that programs that support youth success are irreplaceable. The Reading Academy is doing more than teaching children how to read. They are lowering children’s risk of dropping out of school, which will improve their economic mobility. They encourage students to break a generational cycle by something as simple as ensuring they are literate by the third grade.    

We have so many other fantastic agency partners working in our four areas of focus, childhood success, youth success, economic success, access to health. Read more about their stories here, or sign up for our newsletter to learn more about what we do.