By Maureen Redmond, Guest Writer

Pacific Lutheran University students provided extra help and support for elementary students outside of the classroom. The All-Star Reading program (ASR) provides an opportunity for elementary school students at Fern Hill Elementary School to advance their reading skills by working with PLU students and other volunteers.

Communities in Schools, an organization that focuses on providing support for the success of students, organizes ASR. The organization works with volunteers who spend one-on-one time with elementary school students reading below their grade level.

Communities in Schools of Tacoma coordinator Robin Malich said, “that little extra one-on-one attention just impacts them [the elementary school students] in so many ways.”

The ASR program pairs elementary school students, mainly second-graders, with a volunteer who they will work with each Wednesday during the elementary school’s academic year. Malich said elementary students connect very well with PLU students, and they look forward to spending time with someone who is young. ASR often works with PLU’s Hispanic studies students, because there is a large Latino population at Fern Hill.

“I love having PLU students,” Malich said. “I’d love to get more … because it’s such a good pairing.”

Some of the activities are structured around a curriculum program called the Sound Reading System. The focus of these activities is to help second-graders learn how to listen to and pronounce sounds and words in order to help with reading fluency and comprehension.

According to the website for Communities in Schools’ All-Star Reading, “Sound Reading helps strengthen a [student’s] listening and sound discrimination skills. Before we teach phonics, we need to help the [student] hear all of the sounds in words.”

Students and volunteers may do other activities as well, based on what seems to work best for the growth of the elementary student. Malich also emphasized that ASR is meant to be helpful and fun, such as choosing fun books and activities that can be entertaining for both the second-graders and the volunteers.

She also explained that building a relationship between the elementary school student and the volunteer is a very important part of the program.

PLU students and other community members may volunteer for different reasons, whether they are gaining experience for future work with children and education, earning volunteer hours or just want to contribute to the success of young students.

“It’s just kind of giving back to the community,” Malich said.

For more information about the All-Star Reading Program, contact Robin Malich at or call 253-571-3873. ASR takes place every Wednesday from 4-5 p.m. at Fern Hill Elementary School.

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