Originally published in Hometown St. Thomas

Article by Staci Rae

Reading is an essential learning tool, one of the fundamental building blocks of a successful school career. Unfortunately, reading doesn’t always come easily to some children, and they need a little extra help to acquire the skills they need to be successful. That’s where Strong Start® Charitable Organization comes in.

Through this program, volunteers work within the school setting to provide one-on-one reading assistance for young learners in SK and Grade 1. (Older children may qualify as well, depending on their learning challenges). Students are recommended to the program by their classroom teacher based on need. Generally, 15 children per school are chosen for the program, but that can vary up or down depending on the population size of the school.

Currently, there are 22 schools in the program in the Thames Valley District School Board, two in St. Thomas itself (Elgin Court Public School and Forest Park Public School). “As the donor base grows, the goal is to be available to every school,” says Machelle Denison, Executive Director.

The Strong Start program helps children learn a variety of skills on which they can build to gain the literacy skills necessary to succeed in all areas of learning, through a series of fun and engaging activities. “The program helps children go from learning to read to reading to learn,” explains Denison. More than that, the program helps children who may be struggling in the classroom to gain confidence. “They see themselves as successful learners, which really impacts everything in the classroom.”

The success of the program depends largely on volunteers. Each volunteer is required to take two 2-hour training sessions to learn how to use the program materials. Training will equip the volunteers with all of the information and skills they need to be a successful coach. “Anyone can be a successful coach with this training,” says Machelle.

Part of the program is the forging of the bond between the student and his or her assigned volunteer, creating an atmosphere that allows the child to feel comfortable and confident. Because of that, volunteers are asked to make a commitment of 30 minutes, once per week, for the duration of the 10-week program. Training session dates are posted on the website: www. strongstart.ca.

Helping a child learn to read opens up her world in ways that go far beyond the page. It boosts confidence, gives them a sense of accomplishment, and sets them up for success in a variety of areas throughout their lives. The Strong Start program is designed to do just that, and you can help by volunteering your time!