Reading volunteers still trying to reach magic 500 number

Going into its third school year, the 500 Plan still is striving to gather 500 volunteers to tutor students in reading for one hour after school each Wednesday for eight-week periods.

In all, 228 adults have participated in the program dreamed up by members of the Grand Junction Forum, a citizen group linked to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce focused on ways to improve local education, business and quality of life. The Mesa County Business Education Foundation has since taken over the duties of organizing the 500 Plan.

About 100 volunteers were active during the most recent 500 Plan volunteer session this spring. The next session is Oct. 24 through Dec. 19. Volunteers gathered Wednesday morning for a recognition breakfast at the Lincoln Park Tower at Suplizio Field and shared stories about the fun and often heart-tugging moments they shared with their students.

“I didn’t think a 60-year-old guy could ever be relevant to a fourth-grader,” said volunteer and attorney John Williams, adding he was proven wrong. “I decided to do this because this is where the rubber really meets the road.”

District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said the district learned this week fourth- and fifth-grade students involved in the 500 Plan at eight local schools grew their Transitional Colorado Assessment Program reading test scores by four more percentage points year-over-year than their peers across the state who did not participate in the tutoring program.

Participating elementary schools are allowed to pick students from any grade who are partially proficient in reading to participate in the program but year-over-year growth data is only available for fourth- and fifth-graders because TCAP testing begins in third-grade.

Business Education Foundation Chair Matt Collins praised 500 Plan volunteers for helping students learn to read and for letting struggling students know someone cared about them. Collins said he would like to see volunteer numbers rise to and above 500 this year.

“Right now we have kids waiting for volunteers,” Collins said. “We have a lot of smart people in this community who can make a big difference in peoples’ lives.”

People who wish to volunteer in the 500 Plan can contact the chamber at 242-3214 or visit gjchamber.org to download or print an application that can be submitted online, faxed, or dropped off at the chamber office.

Volunteers need to have a background check and can opt to pay the $50 fee associated with it. Participants can choose to volunteer at Chatfield, Chipeta, Dos Rios, Fruitvale, Mesa View, Rim Rock, Rocky Mountain or Tope elementary schools.

New volunteers must attend a training session before they begin tutoring. The next training will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. Sept. 27 at a modular behind the Emerson Building, 930 Ute Ave.


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