Garrettsville – Reading has been rewarded! James A. Garfield Elementary School just received a $1,000 donation toward its reading program, which helps students meet academic standards. Local State Farm Insurance agent Shannan Jursa made the gift available to Project MORE through a matching grant ($500 State Farm Good Neighbor grant and $500 from Jursa’s office).

Project MORE (Mentoring in Ohio for Reading Excellence)  is a statewide volunteer reading mentoring project for students with reading challenges. Initially, Project MORE was designed to raise the expectations and performance for children with reading disabilities, but it has also proven effective for students at risk for reading failure.

Research shows that students with learning disabilities make monthly reading level gains when they are mentored one-on-one, four times a week for 30 minutes at a time. James A. Garfield Elementary is the only Portage County school implementing the program, and it has been facilitated by Title I teacher Bethany Shackelford since the second half of 2014.

Adult and high school mentors are trained to work with students, Shakelford explains.  Last year, they worked with approximately 70 elementary students. This year, more than 60 students participated in the program.

“Every teacher contributes their own money for the students in their classrooms,” Jursa has observed. This grant should help defray some of the costs associated with running this program.” Shakelford said that a portion of the grant will be used for headphones, website licenses and student prizes.

Jursa, who has twin kindergarteners at JAG, has volunteered as a reading mentor with Project MORE for 40+ hours, making the school eligible for the matching grant. She typically mentors four first- and  third-graders each school year. She started volunteering with the program shortly after establishing her insurance agency at 8454 Windham Street in January 2015.

Jursa is so enthusiastic about Project MORE and the positive difference it makes in children’s lives, she encourages other volunteers from the community to join her in mentoring through the elementary school’s reading program. “All it takes is one hour, one day a week, to make a  huge impact on a child’s life and sense of progress through school. Anyone can volunteer.”

Shakelford adds, “We absolutely could use more volunteers for next school year. The effectiveness of this program hinges on our mentors, the quality and commitment they put into it. I’m thankful for the high school guidance counselor, Kathleen Gilbert, who works with scheduling high school students who may opt to take Project MORE instead of a study hall.”

The program is flexible enough that the school can arrange whatever amount of time or number of days that each mentor is able to provide. Some of JAG’s retired teachers have volunteered for the program, including  Kathy Young, Carol Torda, Stevie Byrne, Larry Kuhlman, and Karen Ziarko.

Shakelford comments, “Several of these teachers have often mentioned to me that mentoring is a highlight of their week, that it makes them feel so good to be back working with kids. They do such an excellent job, too!”

“One of the most significant results of Project MORE is that it provides a win-win setting for mentors and mentees. Many high school mentors say how good it feels to help a younger student and see the progress he/she makes. I am able to see first-hand high school students gaining a sense of responsibility and confidence as they assist their mentees with their reading skills. The younger students enjoy the added attention they receive and work hard to show progress on their reading charts. They, in turn, gain confidence in their reading as they are taught to become fluent readers.”

To inquire about volunteering through Project MORE next school year, contact Beth Shackelford at (330) 527-2184.