Photography by Sarah Oden | Shot on location at Fletcher Library
AR Kids Read currently serves four school districts in Central Arkansas with an unwavering commitment to improve the literacy of students. Implementation of this mission fulfillment work is made possible through tutoring programs. Volunteers who share this vision of proficiency as a requirement, help improve basic reading skills in the classrooms and through community partnerships. AR Kids Read celebrates these accomplishments at Spellebration and will recognize Erik Ostermueller as Tutor of the Year.
Erik fondly recalls reading to his sons as a beloved family ritual. “When our boys were little, reading every night before bedtime was fun and silly and magical for all of us.” For too many children in Arkansas, these kinds of moments are not a reality – more than 60% of third graders read below grade level. Erik feels a personal responsibility and urgency to improve this staggering statistic. He was introduced to A New STEP, Student Teacher Enrichment Program, through First United Methodist Church. An independent tutoring program at Washington Elementary School, students and volunteers gathered in the library for reading and related activities. “I’m passionate about tutoring in this group setting because it’s social as well as educational; the dynamics of every individual create a really inclusive atmosphere.” A New STEP eventually became part of AR Kids Read. “I’ve been involved for 10 years now and the rest is history.”
The organization has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, providing a virtual model for classrooms as well as families through a community enrollment initiative. “In partnership with several Boys & Girls Clubs, we have zoom sessions with the kids,” Erik explains. “It’s not the same, but it keeps the students who need us engaged with the AR Kids Read curriculum.” AR Kids Read Executive Director Kathy French elaborates, “We hope to nurture a love for reading through relationships. Our board of directors and tutors are committed and believe that every child may one day read at grade level.”
Spellebration, featuring a celebrity spelling bee, guarantees an entertaining evening filled with fun and fellowship. “This year, school district representatives will be spelling their way to victory and bragging rights,” Kathy jokes. Proceeds support summer enrichment programs and additional resources for tutors. Erik adds, “We expect to serve 100 kids this semester and more than 300 kids this year. We want to continue to give kids help when they’re not in school. Let’s celebrate big at Spellebration.”