Fraternity pushes students to focus on literacy

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April 10th, 2014

Aaron Conley is Nebraska’s district director for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated.
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Conley, along with other members of his fraternity have been reading to students at Druid Hill Elementary School since 2010.

“We’re hoping to leave an impression on the kids that reading is important and that through literacy and education you will be successful,” Conley said.

Only 36 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders score proficient or better in reading, according to the Kids Count in Nebraska report.

Ken Butts, member of Alpha Phi Alpha, reads to a class of fourth graders. Butts has been visiting the school to read to students for several years. (Photo Courtesy KVNO News)

Ken Butts, member of Alpha Phi Alpha, reads to a class of fourth graders. Butts has been visiting the school to read to students for several years. (Photo Courtesy KVNO News)

When broken down by racial demographics, 56 percent of black fourth grade students read below a basic level compared to 46 percent of Hispanics, and 23 percent of Asian and white students.

Druid Hill is currently below the state standard in reading, but according to Principal Cherice Williams, students have made a five percent increase in scores year after year. Williams said they hope to reach their goal of at least 50 percent accuracy on the state reading test, and she believes members of the fraternity will help students get there.

“Of course we’d love to be 100 percent proficient in our reading scores but we’re not quite there yet. With the success and the continuation of the fraternity working with us and other outside community members visiting our classrooms and supporting our students I believe we’ll be able to meet our goal,” Williams said.

Anthony Vargas, board member for the Nebraska Alliance for Quality Education, said the earlier the literacy gap can be closed the better. Vargas said that while it’s not impossible to catch up, it’s extremely difficult and takes a great teacher.

“Maybe they didn’t get the intervention they needed. A genuine intervention that allows them and their parents and their school to have a full alignment on where their students are in terms of reading and skill level and what are the real barriers keeping them from being able to close the literacy gap for themselves, ” Vargas said.

A fourth grade student prepares to complete an activity related to the book "My Name is Yoon." (Photo Courtesy KVNO News)

A fourth grade student prepares to complete an activity related to the book “My Name is Yoon.” (Photo Courtesy KVNO News)

Which is exactly why the fraternity decided to work with Druid Hill. Conley said he hopes that he and other members of the fraternity can be a support system to students.

“Many of its students receive free or reduced lunch, which says that they come from low socioeconomic circumstances so they may not always have the support they need at home,” Conley said. “Our interest in the school is to help supplement those activities and be able to supply them with successful role models.”

During a special program held Wednesday at Druid Hill, members from all

The local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., dedicated this bench to Druid Hill Elementary School. It was designed by Les Bruning.

The local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., dedicated this bench to Druid Hill Elementary School. It was designed by Les Bruning.

over the Midwest region gathered to read to students. They also donated books with an emphasis on African-American literature, art and history to the school’s library and presented Principal Williams with a $500 check for the library.

The highlight of the program was the unveiling of a bench designed by Omaha artist Les Bruning.

Click here to watch video of the unveiling.

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