Changing Colorado’s Education Landscape, One Book at a Time

How does Colorado have one of the most educated workforces in the country yet we only send a fraction of Colorado students to post-secondary education. It’s called the Colorado Paradox. Reading Partners, a Chamber member, is leading the effort to make sure every student has a chance to be reading on track—and have more chance at success in the future.

We sat down with Margie Thirlby, executive director of Reading Partners to learn about their impact on Colorado’s education landscape.

Taking Care of Business: Tell me briefly about Reading Partners.

Reading Partners photo
A student with a Reading Partners volunteer

Margie Thirlby: Reading Partners is a national children’s literacy organization that helps students improve their reading skills and reach grade-level reading by fourth grade. Utilizing the support of community volunteers, Reading Partners provides targeted, one-on-one tutoring to students who are behind grade-level reading. During the 2015-2016 school year, Reading Partners was able to serve 837 students with the support of 1,217 volunteer tutors!

TCB: Why is the fourth grade, and a student’s reading ability, a crucial turning point in a student’s success?

MT: Strong early reading skills are essential for success in education and in life. Students reading below grade level in third grade are four times as likely as their peers to drop out of school before earning their high school diploma.

And, fourth grade is when a student transitions from learning to read to reading to learn. When students are not prepared for this transition they fall increasingly behind in all subjects and it gets more and more difficult for them to get caught up to grade level. Fourth grade reading proficiency lays the groundwork for anything a student will go on to accomplish personally and academically.

TCB: What is the economic impact if we ignore this challenge?

MT: In a word, catastrophic. If students in low-income communities can succeed in graduating from high school and possibly go to college, their chances of breaking out of the cycle of poverty are much greater. The income gap in our society is enormous; every student who leaves high school without a diploma costs our society $260,000. If we can get students reading proficiently by fourth grade, they will have a much better chance of getting their high school diploma, thus contributing positively to their community and the state of Colorado.

TCB: Tell me about the impact Reading Partners has on students.

Reading Partners_Ron & Loc
Loc and Ron

MT: During the 2015-2016 school year, Reading Partners had the pleasure of working with a student named Loc, a second grader at Kaiser Elementary. Loc was reading approximately six months behind grade-level. Then, Loc was paired with a volunteer named Ron, the president of the local Kiwanis Club. By the end of the school year, Loc had one of the highest test results of any student enrolled in the Reading Partners’ program and had passed grade-level reading. This May, Loc was invited to speak at Reading Partners’ inaugural breakfast fundraiser to share about the impact that Reading Partners had on his life. In front of 375 attendees, Loc shared: “I love Reading Partners. When I read in front of somebody it makes me proud. A book is the power of me.”

TCB: Why do you love doing business in Colorado?

MT: Colorado is an amazing state to provide one-on-one care for children in need of additional support with their reading skills. The Denver metro area presents us with challenges as well as exciting opportunities. Colorado continues to face significant budgetary challenges within school districts, warranting an even greater need for programs like Reading Partners who are committed to the success of our students.

Laura James is the marketing and communications coordinator for the Denver Metro Chamber.