WU Reads aims to improve literacy in young readers


Jaycie Nelson

Kayla Jasso, director of communications for undergraduate admissions, reads to Gordon Parks Elementary student during a WUreads session. Volunteers read every Friday for 20 minutes.

Around 40 faculty and staff members devote just 20 minutes of their time each week to reading to fourth-grade students at Gordon Parks Academy.

For the past two years, staff and faculty members have been volunteering to read to students virtually in an effort to help USD 259 reach its goal of increasing third-grade proficiency

“We focused on third-grade literacy because we know third-grade reading levels contribute to high school graduation rates,” Naquela Pack, director of engagement, said. 

Pack said the Gordon Parks principal, LaTonia Kennedy, allowed WU Read members to read to the third graders, and the volunteers are still continuing to read for them. 

“It’s been really great to see improvement throughout the time we get to spend with them,” Pack said. 

Kayla Jasso, director of communications for undergraduate admissions, started participating in WU Reads last fall, at the start of the program. 

Jasso had originally learned about it through a colleague’s LinkedIn post and said it was a “no-brainer” for her as she cleared her calendar for those 20 minutes every Friday.

“20 minutes a week is so easy,” Jasso said. “[Reading] is a skill set that many of us have that we can use to give back, you know, just the ability to read or a lot of times just listen to them read.”

Jasso said her favorite part of the program is connecting with the students and hearing how their week went and what’s going on in their life. 

“When I started reading last year, for the first few weeks, I was the only one that read, and eventually my reader was like, ‘Okay, you know, I can read some,’ and so we would trade back and forth,” Jasso said, “And then we got to the point at the end of the year where basically she was just reading the whole time.”

Jasso said there are a lot of positives about the program, such as connecting them to the university. 

“Just trying to help ( the reader) feel connected and hopefully just kind of plant the seed that college could be a possibility for her,” Jasso said. “And we have the unique connection to … just to give them a little insight into our world.” 

If you’re interested in volunteering for WU Reads, you can fill out the application here.