Pi Beta Phi promotes literacy at Holt Elementary

Adrienne Burch

Alabama’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi sorority has partnered with Holt Elementary School to implement the six-week Champions are Readers (CAR) program, designed to help students enhance their reading levels.

Pi Beta Phi started the CAR program at Holt three years ago as part of its national philanthropy campaign for literacy. Members of the sorority travel to Holt Elementary every Friday to read with students in three different third grade classrooms.

“Every time we walk in the room, they raise their hands hoping they can be the first to read with one of us,” said sophomore Jessie Ashton.

Each third grader is given an interactive workbook, bookmark and folder that he or she uses throughout the program. Every child gets a chance to spend 10 minutes reading to one of the girls from Pi Beta Phi each week.

“The individual attention we are able to give each child is what makes a huge difference,” said Tatum Denson, a junior and vice president of philanthropy for Pi Beta Phi. “Seeing their faces light up because someone is showing them that they care about them lets us know that we are making a difference.”

Holt Elementary was one of the schools in the Tuscaloosa area destroyed by the April 27 tornado and many of its students’ families were those most impacted. The school has now relocated to Lloyd Wood Middle School.

“The biggest difference going back this year after the tornado is that there are fewer students and teachers,” Denson said. “But the kids that are there are much more outspoken and open about things in their life. “Many of these students have been through a lot in the last seven months, and we are able to give them something most of them do not get at home. We are able spend time with them one-on-one.”

Pi Beta Phi has also partnered with The First Book Foundation to award Holt with a $10,000 grant to be used to enhance literacy at their school. This grant will allow the librarian at Holt to buy books for the school from First Book that will then be available for use by the students.

The check will be given to the school at a pep rally held on Dec. 2, celebrating the end of the six-week program and the growth of the students’ reading. At the event, each child who participated in the program will receive a medal, a certificate of achievement and a book of their own.

The second graders at Holt also attend the pep rally to show them what they will be a part of next year.

“Knowing that the student’s grades have increased tremendously since Pi Beta Phi started volunteering at Holt is incredible,” said senior Alisha Parker. “We had no way of knowing the impact we would have on these children.”

After the six-week program, members of Pi Beta Phi will continue to read with the third graders at Holt throughout the school year.