Read-Learn-Grow leans on community

Published 10:30 am Saturday, May 4, 2024

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WEST POINT — At Thursday’s noon-hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. Dr. Joe Downs and wife Debra talked about the Read-Learn-Grow program they are volunteers for at West Point Elementary School.

Read-Learn-Grow is a program within the Troup County School System in which trained and approved community volunteers commit one hour a week to go to a first-grade classroom during the teacher’s small group reading block of time to help students with their reading.

The program has been taking place in six elementary schools in the LaGrange area along with the elementary schools in Hogansville and West Point.

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During the classroom sessions, volunteers work with students in such tasks as making the sounds of letters, practicing words that can be tricky and writing letters, words and sentences together.

They also read stories together and discuss elements of stories in small group settings.

Educators are in agreement that the first few years of elementary education is the critical period in mastering reading skills. Studies have shown that if a child is not reading on the third grade level by the time they are entering the fourth grade, it will become increasingly difficult for them to catch up.

Joe told members of the club that their participation in Read-Learn-Grow has been an uplifting experience for both he and Debra.

“It’s really fun,” he said. “I get down on the floor with them, and we play games.”

Some of the children being helped by Read-Learn-Grow have what’s known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. This is usually diagnosed in childhood and can last into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behavior or be overly active.

“I highly recommend getting involved in Read-Learn-Grow,” Joe said. “It’s very rewarding to help children during this important phase of their learning.”

This is the first year West Point Elementary has been in the program. Joe and Debra were among approximately a dozen adult volunteers who were recently given appreciation awards by the school.Joe said it was an adjustment for him to get back into a classroom setting and see how children are learning in a 21st-century setting.

“It’s not Dick and Jane anymore,” he said, referring to the way children once learned. “The children are wearing headphones and looking at a computer screen. It  works. They are reading a lot by the end of the program.”

Joe said that Debra is the better teacher of the two.

“I think they get too involved with me,” he said. “They start jumping up and down when I enter the room. This is a great program. I hope more adults in our area will consider volunteering. We are fortunate to have some really good summer reading programs in our area.”

Debra said she had found it helpful to organize reading groups within the classroom. “They are on different levels,” she explained. “We start by holding up cards and reading words.”

Joe credited Dr. Connor Smith for having done a great job in getting the program started.

The idea for the program originated in 2018 and was going to be implemented two years later but was sidetracked by Covid. It did get started on a limited level as a virtual program.

When classroom instruction resumed, Read-Learn-Grow was in two schools. It has gone county-wide since then. The number of adult volunteers assisting the program has grown over the past four years, but more are needed.

Those who volunteer will go through some training sessions in August. This training takes place in the Administrative Services office in LaGrange.

There are some routine background checks, and if everything checks out a new volunteer can be working with first-grade children in September.

For more information about Read-Learn-Grow, contact Get Troup Reading Director Kim Myers at or Nicole Kennedy at (706) 812-7900 or email at

“The program focuses on first grade because the students have gone from kindergarten, where they had two adults in the classroom, to first grade, where they have one teacher,” Myers explained. “Our mission in Get Troup Reading is to have all children reading on grade level by third grade. The transition from kindergarten to first grade is so important in getting this done.”

Studies have shown that children start falling behind in literacy in the first grade. There’s a place for adult volunteers to help.

“In having some extra help in the first-grade classroom it will allow the teacher to help with literacy instruction with smaller groups. It has been challenging to find volunteers, but we are excited about this program and the results we have seen from it. Such results come from people working together as a community. Hopefully, we can have our kids reading on grade level by the third grade.”