STARS book club once again working with Waco students to improve reading habits, skills

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 6:41 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A local nonprofit is experiencing success in its efforts to improve reading habits among local students after being allowed back onto school campuses after a year-and-a-half hiatus due to the threat of COVID-19.

STARS Book Club, which sends hundreds of volunteers from area churches into schools across Waco to provide focused reading support, encouragement and positive role models, had to suspend its in person volunteer program when COVID-19 left schools closed in Spring of 2020.   

The organization offered as much support as it could during that time via virtual calls and pen pals.

The nonprofit was booming just before volunteers were pulled from campuses, at the time sending 500 volunteers per week to 12 different Waco elementary schools.

Director Michael Jeter says it’s good to be back. “Oh, absolutely. It’s so great to be on campuses again and just be able to support kids.  We’re just so happy to be able to encourage kids and their love of reading because they really need it right now.”

STARS Book club was founded in 2013 by a former teacher who joined the staff at Antioch Community Church and knew of the need to get local elementary students reading on their grade level.

It started small with a handful of Antioch volunteers going into Provident Heights and Waco Charter School, pulling out students from their lunch period and reading.

“Over time, we just saw the need in Waco ISD and we said ‘we’re going to stretch ourselves to provide this support for people across different schools,’” Jeter said.

At the time volunteers were removed from campuses in 2020, more than 30 churches were sending in hundreds of volunteers to 12 different Waco elementary school campuses including Provident Heights, Waco Charter, West Avenue, Brooke Avenue, J.H. Hines, South Waco, Kendrick, Crestview, Alta Vista, Hillcrest, Bell’s Hill and Parkdale.

“We get two to three kids on the same reading level in the same class and the kids would go around and practice reading.  A volunteer is just encouraging them and giving them a safe little space where they can build that reading confidence and love of reading.”

The success they’ve seen by starting book clubs is undeniable.

In 2013, Provident Heights Elementary was the third lowest performing school in Waco ISD.  After six years of investment through the book club and the majority of students at that school being a part of it, Provident Heights showed more growth than 99.5 percent of all public schools, according to TEA data.

Both Provident Heights and Waco Charter school actually improved their reading STAAR results more than any other Waco-area elementary school.

Jeter says the nonprofit is hoping to reenter all the schools they were in prior to the shutdown and plan to do so as soon as volunteer numbers grow.

“Our problem is that we have more kids that want to do it than volunteers to handle it,” Jeter said.

The STARS Book Club is this week’s TFNB Your Bank for Life Charity Champion.   As a charity nominated by the public and chosen by Charity Champions, the book club will receive a free marketing campaign and leadership training.

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