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01/06/04
Volunteers make a difference in the USC Literacy Project, a program that improves the reading abilities of children in the community. The results are encouraging — 63 percent of tutored youngsters show substantial improvement.
By Eva Emerson
Sherry Nguyen, Tammara Anderson and Tina Kozneazny, from left.

Photo/Eva Emerson
The USC Literacy Project is asking Trojans to “Spend lunch over a good book” — reading to a community child. Launched in 1998, the USC Literacy Project is a group of faculty, staff, alumni and graduate student volunteers placed in local schools.

Last year, Tina Koneazny, director of JEP’s USC ReadersPLUS, and her team began rebuilding the program, recruiting 15 graduate student volunteers.

This year, in an effort spearheaded by Sherry Nguyen, the student central coordinator of USC ReadersPLUS, they have increased recruitment efforts and found new ways to get their message out. They also considered the use of a slogan: “Spend lunch over a good book. Read to a child.”

“Our community schools have been happy to host our students, whose literacy assistance truly makes a difference in the children’s reading abilities,” Koneazny said.

The special attention brings results. According to an assessment in 2002, 63 percent of children working with USC tutors showed substantial improvements in reading accuracy.

Recognizing the difficulty for people who work full-time or have busy schedules, the Literacy Project asks for one to two hours a week of volunteers’ time.

Nguyen’s work already has paid off, with more than 20 people signed up for the spring training to learn the basics about working one-on-one with a struggling reader.

ReadersPLUS is one of the three service learning programs administered from offices in the rambling JEP House, an older bungalow. The others are Trojan Health Volunteers and the original Joint Educational Project, which remains the largest.

JEP works with professors to match students enrolled in one of more than 65 different academic courses with neighborhood organizations and requires that students meet weekly to write about and reflect on how their experiences relate to classroom theory and readings.

Combined, more than 1,000 students take part in JEP programs each semester.

“The beauty of JEP is that it allows us to respond in a positive way to serious issues facing the USC neighborhood — that’s the ‘good’ we do,” said JEP Director Tammara Anderson. “But what people most often overlook is the educational benefits USC students get out of their service — the learning piece of what we do.”