Mentor Shares Joy of Volunteering with EE

Energizing Education’s goal is to reach as many students as possible to help them achieve grade level milestones by the end of third grade.  In order to do so, we need mentors.  We are so fortunate to have as many mentors as we do, but the need for more never ends as there is a constant waiting list for students to be in the program.  This year, a mentor from Cascades went above and beyond mentoring just one student.  Shirlee mentored 5 students.  Here’s her story:

“I had a very good year at Cascades school with 5 students (1st and 2nd graders), 3 girls and 2 boys.  I read with only one of the girls for the first 4 months of this past school year.  She became amazing in her reading ability but we still kept in touch for the rest of the school year.  Then I took two more students when their prior mentor could not continue.  So for the last 5 months I had 4 kids and I really enjoyed reading with them.  Most of the time I felt they were giving it their best in reading and listening. In each session they followed up their reading with writing the words they struggled with and drew pictures of their favorite part of the book.  One time my husband and I were leaving Sam’s Club and one of the young girls came in with her parents and her sister.  She came up to me and gave me a hug and introduced me to her family.  They were so receptive and grateful.  I am looking forward to participating again next fall at Cascades.”


By mentoring with Energizing Education, Shirlee really saw the impact the program brings. Through the cohesiveness between teachers, site coordinators, and mentors, we are all helping to unlock the potential of each student that walks through our Literacy Lounge doors.  It’s no small task we are asking of mentors, and their commitment does not go unnoticed.  When everything comes together, the results we see are remarkable and the students we’ve impacted have had so much confidence, growth, and an adult they can call a friend.

If you are interested in giving to EE financially so that we can continue to grow please visit the Giving Grid at  or to volunteer your time in the schools please email us at for more information.


Single Mother Seeks Help for Her Family

Many parents struggle to find time to read with their children at the end of a busy school and work day. They’re tasked with helping with homework, making sure everyone is fed, and of course all the little things in your day that you don’t plan for. With all of this, sometimes the suggested 20 minutes of daily reading doesn’t end up on the top of their to do list. Maria, a single parent of four approached our staff at a Family Involvement Night seeking help with her busy lifestyle.

Maria had just recently gotten out of the AWARE shelter with her four children who were all under the age of 5. Maria was doing everything she could to make ends meet and asked us if there were any resources for parenting classes. As you might imagine, four active, little ones keep you busy. Maria is just one parent among many we see at Family Involvement Nights who don’t always have the easiest home life. Maria was courageous enough to share her story about the struggles of parenting, finding shelter, heat, and food, all while wanting the best for your children.

We told Maria to get in touch with 211 and to inquire about the CARE Program through United Way. We also suggested questions for her to ask. We took her number and said we would reach out if we found other resources.

Energizing Education family nights are about more than just fun literacy activities to help with reading for parents and their children. They are an open door for the whole school where families can get a meal they might not otherwise get. They are an opportunity for parents to reach out and ask questions. They provide a space where we can help connect parents to other resources and community services they may need.

Often you never know how big of an impact you are making on someone. This is just one story from one night. Imagine the lives we have the potential to make a difference for at seven schools. Stories like Maria’s show how one night a month, for 90 minutes can make a huge impact for a family.

Energizing is Making a Difference One Child at a Time

Marcus was a second grade student at Frost who was identified early in the year by his teacher as a struggling reader.  Marcus was enrolled in Energizing Education and paired with a mentor.  Marcus was very reluctant to read at first.  Not every day was easy.  Some days Marcus would sit hunched over a book and say, “I’m tired,” or “Do I have to read today?”

It took several months to see Marcus make progress, but after getting to know his mentor, he began to open up and showed interest in coming to read twice a week.  You could tell that he was trying hard with each book he read.  He was able to sound out words on his own and he was able to make connections and re-tell stories in his own words.  When it came time for him to be tested, his scored showed that he was ready to exit the program.

Marcus exited reading at grade level and was a model student.  Marcus ended up in the LEAP program which allows above average learners to excel in a classroom centered on learning and an advanced curriculum.  In order for him to be reading above average took both consistency and a collective effort.  With the support of Frost teachers, his family, and EE, we took an at risk student and changed his trajectory.

Marcus is one of many students that have benefitted from being in the program.  Last year, Energizing Education mentors read with 168 Kindergarten through third grade students at our seven elementary schools.  These volunteers went above and beyond the task we asked of them – to read with students for 30 minutes twice a week.  Many volunteers took on more than one student, dedicating hours a week to helping students gain the skills they need to become better readers.  93% percent of students improved their reading proficiency last year. The strong community approach between school districts, donors, and mentors is a direct correlation to the educational improvements we see each day.

Donating to EE opens doors for students throughout the community.  The more dollars we have allows us to continue the work we’re doing in our current schools and expand into more.

If you want to see students in Jackson County thrive and succeed please take a look at the work we have done and think about what more we could accomplish with your donation to EE.  Donate at

EE Parent Expresses Gratitude for the Program

Students who are enrolled in Energizing Education are often those students that need just a little extra support. We see many success stories in the making each day at our schools, but it always means even more when those stories come from parents of our students. At one of our recent events I had the pleasure to talk with a parent of one of our students at Cascades. The parent shared with me how grateful he was to the program and everyone who has helped his daughter. His daughter, now in 2nd grade was in the program last year because she was a struggling reader. With the help of her mentor, by the end of the year, she had made a lot of progress. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much of what you say, and the tips and tools your offer to parents will be taken home and utilized. This father said that he loves reading with his daughter and does whatever he can to help her become a better reader. He would make a conscious effort every day to read books that were sent home from school with her and even read books from their own home library.

Stories like this make me proud to do what I do every day and I hope it helps those reading this to see that Energizing Education is making a difference to our students and their families and is an essential program to have in the community.

-Energizing Education Manager, Lois Dunning

Student’s Confidence Improves by Time Spent Reading

Energizing Education operates in seven elementary schools in Jackson County, in four school districts. Mentors from the community come in and read with students twice a week for 30 minute sessions to help them with their reading. The goal of EE is to make sure students are reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. When students are reading at grade level, they become less likely to struggle academically in later years and are more likely to graduate. We have many success stories with our students and the following comes from a mentor and student pair at Arnold Elementary in Michigan Center.

Energizing Education mentor, Travis Gaddy has been a mentor at Arnold for 4 years. Over those 4 years, Travis has worked with several students. During the 2016-2017 school year, Travis worked with 1st grade student, Damien. When the year began, Damien often was disengaged with his lessons each week and had very little desire to come to the literacy lounge and read. After a lot of encouragement from his mentor and Damien’s hard work, slowly but surely both his mentor and his teacher saw a tremendous improvement. By the end of the school year he had jumped multiple reading levels – from a level 5 to a level 18. With consistency and guidance from Travis, Damien transformed into the perfect gentleman each time he came in the EE room. His teacher Mrs. Vincent said, “It has been great to see Damien develop a relationship outside of the classroom with a positive role model like Coach Gaddy.  His confidence level has greatly improved by spending time reading with Mr. Gaddy.”

Stories like this make us very grateful to mentors and their unwavering commitment. Your support of Energizing Education can help students like Damien become excellent readers who succeed each and every day.


“Miles on the Page”

I play the ukulele.  The more I play the better I get and this is true of any activity and it is especially true of reading.  Noted reading expert, Richard Allington, refers to this as “miles on the page.”  There are many years of research and many studies that confirm the relationship between volume of reading and reading achievement.  The more kids read, the better their comprehension.  The more kids read, the more powerful their vocabularies.  In Energizing Education we are adding close to an hour a week for kids to add to their “miles on the page.”  Over the course of the school year this adds up to an extra 34 hours of reading in addition to what students do in their classrooms and at home.  Another very important factor in improving reading achievement is to ensure that kids are reading books that are easy for them to read.

Lots of easy reading is critical to reading development.  Easy reading helps students develop a positive attitude about reading and learning and helps them develop an identity as a “reader.”  In the EE Literacy Lounge, the books that students read are carefully chosen by the site coordinator to ensure that no child who comes to read with our mentors will struggle.  Finally, kids need the opportunity to talk about what they’re reading.  The point of reading is to make meaning out of the words on the page and without the opportunity to talk about their reading, many children miss the link between reading and thinking, and simply become word readers.  This is one of the most vital roles, among many, that our mentors play in the lives of our students.  They are the caring adult who has the time to listen to what our students are thinking about the books that they read.  Energizing Education provides opportunities to read, provides books that students can read successfully, and provides those caring adults who are there to listen.  Finally, EE supports parent’s efforts at nurturing a love of reading through our monthly Family Nights. Added all up, these are the ingredients that will help our students become successful readers who love to read.

Asa Fleming, Energizing Education Literacy Specialist

Reading Month at George Long Elementary

Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and in all the nooks. ~Dr. Seuss

March is reading month and we celebrate it partly in homage to the late, great Dr. Seuss who wrote 46 children’s books in his lifetime. His greatest known books, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham were books he was challenged to write because of the troubling statistics that were coming forward about children and literacy in the 50s. It had been established that the primers being used to teach children were boring to the children that had to read them. Dr. Seuss was asked by his friend, the director of Houghton Mifflin, to write a book using 250 beginner words that first grade students could easily recognize. The Cat in the Hat was born and came in under the word count with 236 words being used. Dr. Seuss’ most popular book, Green Eggs and Ham, was developed under similar circumstances. Dr. Seuss was challenged by a publisher to write a book using fifty words or less and this beloved classic was born. Dr. Seuss did not begin writing children’s books with the intent of teaching children how to read, but he has been heralded as the best reading teacher in America.

What does this mean for you? It means that you may not have started out your journey thinking that becoming a reading teacher was your destiny. However, we all have the potential to help children learn to read. From reading to your own children and grandchildren, to volunteering as an Energizing Education mentor at one of our six schools, you could be a catalyst for helping a child become a reader. There is no greater gift you can give to a child than the ability to read. There are other ways to give your time to give the gift of reading to students this month. Schools across the county are looking for people willing to come in and read a story to their elementary classes. There are also book fairs taking place in most of the elementary schools this month. Why not call and see if they need volunteers? How wonderful would it be to pair students up with the right books so they enjoy reading and do not look at it as a chore or assignment? As one of the site coordinators for Energizing Education, I can say that providing interesting books and a caring mentor to students twice a week to read with them makes a world of difference.

***All of the information about Dr. Seuss can be found on his website***

– Amy Cook

March is Reading Month at Bennett Elementary

Bennett School is celebrating reading!  Reading month started with volunteer readers from the community sharing their love of reading at the Read Across America event on March 2nd.  The month of March is filled with “special dress days”- i.e “Jean”ious Reader, Exercise Your Mind, and Read my t-shirt days.  In addition, some days are designated as “Drop Everything and Read”.  The month culminates with a reading award celebration. Bennett School loves to read!


– MaryEllen Theis

“At this point in my life, I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing…”

I have had many jobs in my life. They have been in a wide variety of fields, from remodeling pharmacies in Texas to a quality inspector in Ann Arbor to an Assistant Manager at Walmart in 3 different counties. I have liked all of my jobs and I have always been good at them. I never loved any of them, however, and was never really proud of any, until Energizing Education came along.

When I decided to go back to college later in life, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted something in the helping profession. I had seen enough struggle in my community and wanted to help in some way. I chose Family Studies because I believe in the strength of family and what that can accomplish. I also believe that to make our world a better place, both on a micro and a macro level, this is where it starts. I truly believe that Energizing Education is changing the world, starting right here in Jackson County.

What I do now is recruit mentors for Energizing Education. Part of this is to sell EE to strangers. At first, this terrified me. I am not a salesperson. I did not know if I could build up this program enough to convince people that this was the opportunity (among countless others in the area) they wanted to choose to do. What I quickly learned is that this program sells itself. Everyone that does it, likes it and everyone that is no longer able to do it, is upset about having to leave. We are accomplishing wonderful things. We have had results we didn’t even expect so quickly. Selling the program has become the easiest part of my job and I love to do it. I want the world to know what I do, what we do, and how they can be a part of it.

At this point in my life, I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing on a professional level and I thank everyone involved that keeps Energizing Education going. We are a growing family that just keeps getting bigger and better and I could not be more proud to be a part of it.

-Charlie Miller

Literacy as Freedom

Literacy as Freedom

Hi, my name is Ben Bundy and I’m a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA. Nearly two years ago I graduated from a small college in Michigan called Spring Arbor University. Spring Arbor lies outside the city of Jackson and just down the road from the elementary school where I mentor twice a week. One of the major subjects I studied there was the topic of poverty. My major was International Studies, which placed a large focus on sociology and third-world economics. I was also privileged with opportunities to venture abroad and saw extreme poverty in Mexico and Guatemala that prior to these experiences I had only read about.

When I decided to come back to Jackson and do a year-long term with AmeriCorps VISTA, I didn’t expect to see the same lack of opportunity just up the road from Spring Arbor as I had seen in Central America. Granted, I didn’t see houses made of plywood or families living in the midst of garbage, but I did see a very similar lack of opportunity. Over 13,000 households in Jackson are living below the poverty level. This accounts for 33% of families in Jackson, with the majority of these families being single-parent households. Working conditions are far from ideal as well, with an unemployment rate of 21%, nearly double the state average of 9%.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my year as a VISTA, it’s that no one portrait or statistic effectively portrays poverty. The reality is that poverty extends beyond financial problems or unemployment. It has been described as anything from a mindset to a generational cycle. For many across the nation though, the path to poverty begins with illiteracy. Jackson is one of many Michigan cities with a reading problem. About 10% of Jackson County elementary students are reading behind grade level, according to the Intermediate School District. The percentage of third-graders in Jackson Public Schools that met MEAP reading standards was only 52.5%, compared to the statewide average of 61.3%. Illiteracy is a serious issue for these students, but the outcomes that result from it are only more severe.

At Energizing Education we often state that children first learn to read and then spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. The flip side of this coin is that those students who never learn to read face a mountain of obstacles. No ability is as fundamental to an individual’s learning and success as the basic ability to read, and when children miss out on this skill, they pay for it later in life. Students who don’t learn to read by the third grade often fall behind in other subjects, struggle to keep up, and are four times more likely to not graduate high school. School failure often results in outcomes such as unemployment, substance abuse, and incarceration, perpetuating the vicious circle of poverty from one generation to another.

Jackson’s reading predicament hasn’t gone unnoticed, and organizations such as United Way and Energizing Education are working hard to make a difference. I believe a different problem exists though, and this problem is that many adults take literacy for granted. For many of us, this seems to be no error. I was lucky enough to be raised in a household that valued reading. My grandmother was a retired teacher, and my parents ensured I was surrounded with books growing up. Like millions of middle-class Americans, I was the beneficiary of a fortunate upbringing. This, I believe, is often forgotten. Because of our own circumstances we may imagine that an illiterate first-grade student is a rare occurrence – a deviation from an otherwise honest pattern – but the reality is that illiteracy is one of the most prevalent and overlooked social problems we face.

One of my favorite books in college was Development as Freedom¸by Amartya Sen. In it, Sen makes the case that we need to view development in a different light than it has been viewed traditionally. Rather than measuring development solely in terms of economic growth such as GDP or emergence from poor societal conditions, his central message is that development may also be seen as a process of expanding freedom. Sen notes that we often view the skills and resources needed to get out of poverty strictly as escape routes. He argues rather that we can view them not just as ladders out of poverty but as pathways to a realm of prosperity and opportunity. Individuals “need not be seen primarily as passive recipients”, Sen writes. With the right opportunities available, these people can “shape their own destiny and help each other”.

I think Sen’s framework for viewing development could be applied in the same way to literacy. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously described in his “Four Freedom’s” message, it is not just freedom from that we must value but the freedom to. These types of freedom have since been described in terms of negative freedom and positive freedom. It’s important for us to recognize the duel nature of this freedom in order to see the full spectrum of possibilities that are created. We can observe the struggling student’s learning to read not just as salvaging the child’s future – precluding unemployment or financial struggles – but as opening doors and opportunities with which the student can create his or her own future.

Literacy is thus not just freedom from but freedom to. It is the freedom not simply to learn, but to achieve. When we view literacy as freedom, we view it not just as relief from the obstacles the student may face. We see it as a tool that students can harness to actively play a role in their own education. Students become agents and architects of their own futures, rather than merely “passive recipients” as described by Sen. Literacy is the freedom not just to close the gap between the student and his peers, but the power to motivate and inspire them. It is the freedom of opportunity to grow up and become a lawyer or an accountant or perhaps even a science fiction writer. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is certain. Literacy means freedom.

Energizing Education is a program that values literacy as the foundation for a lifetime of success. It’s a program that sees reading as a first step into a world of endless possibilities. To quote a book I read recently, “A beginning is a time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct”. Energizing Education understands this truth, and our results speak for themselves. We’re now in six elementary schools throughout Jackson County and looking to expand further. I’m very proud to have been a part of Energizing Education these past twelve months. It’s been exciting and inspiring watching the improvement our students have made thanks to the program. We know there is still much work to be done, but one thing is for sure. Help is on the way.

-Ben Bundy