America Reads honored for dedication to students and the community


Trista Sobeck

 America Reads isn’t just about getting a job in order to help pay for necessities while being a student. It’s about gaining skills and giving back.

 ASU America Reads is an after-school program that strives to address a community need by providing evidence-based intervention to support the increased academic achievement of K-8th graders attending economically disadvantaged schools. One-on-one tutoring helps provide academic skill building and life skills development. In addition, the activities correspond with the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards.

Currently, America Reads offers academic opportunities to 600 school-age children at six sites throughout Maricopa County. It is also increasing 21st-century job skills, such as professionalism, working with co-workers from various backgrounds, and working with marginalized populations, for more than 320 ASU students each academic year.

 That’s more than 1,000 young people a year learning from each other and enriching each other’s lives.

This is only one of the many reasons why America Reads won the 2018 President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness from ASU president Michael Crow. This award recognizes ASU staff for achieving the university’s bold mission to collaborate with the community in mutually beneficial ways deeply rooted in ASU’s charter and design aspirations.  

The America Reads team consists of thirty-five ASU student leaders, four part-time site managers, Faith Wagner, coordinator senior and Deb Ruiz, director. This team focuses on mutually beneficial goals for both ASU students and the community children.

 “We focus programming in two areas: increasing academic opportunities for community children and increasing career development for ASU students, says Wagner.” This philosophy did the trick in securing America Reads as award winners.

Wagner reiterates that while the ASU students are earning money, they are also earning valuable skills, tutoring children and connecting with the community. They can take these skills with them to future workplaces and add America Reads to their resumes.

Ruiz explains that these skills are about job readiness and learning how to be professional in the working world. “Our ASU students are gaining transferable skills relevant to any field future career field,” she says. “They are also learning about civic engagement, the importance giving back to their communities and the notion that every engaged citizen should care about the education of our youth — even if they do not plan to go into education.”

 A mutually beneficial partnership

 “America Reads is an incredibly beneficial partnership for everyone involved,” says Wagner. “We are walking alongside our community partners to have these mutually beneficial outcomes. Our ASU students are getting just as much out of the partnership as the children.”

 Wagner further explains, “We cultivate and maintain partnerships not just with community organizations, but with other departments here within ASU.” 

 America Reads works closely with the Office of Student Employment to collaboratively offer community federal work-study to students. Then, on the flip side, that office supports America Reads in its recruiting efforts.

 Contextual models bring personalization

 America Reads currently partners with four Boys and Girls Clubs and two Salvation Army Community Centers across Maricopa County located in South Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix, South Phoenix and on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Each partnership is unique, based on the need of the community and the population served. 

 The program seems to have cracked the code of personalized learning through contextual models. The community centers, the school district and the principals work together with America Reads to make sure the children in each unique community are getting what they need to be successful.

 “Each partnership is different,” reports Wagner. “We set up according to the needs, wants and goals of both the school and the community. The America Reads program is not cookie-cutter,” she says. “We meet and recognize the needs of each community.”

 Similarly, the ASU students have unique goals for participating in the program. “One of our students is studying juvenile justice, and she really wanted a work-study job where she could work with kids from a diverse population,” recounts Wagner. In addition, one ASU student is a biology major with the goal of becoming a doctor someday. Her experience in America Reads is giving her skills in working one-on-one with children.

 Other students are enrolled in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and look to gain additional experiences working with children.

 “America Reads is very personalized and paving the way for mutually beneficial collaborations in education,” says Wagner. “The philosophy is the same. We just adjust to the need.”