Philly Reading Coaches: Get in the Game!


a boy and volunteer read together

Philly Reading Coaches: Get in the Game!

As the school day ends at Carnell Elementary School, a dedicated group of volunteers makes its way into the building. Some are not much older than 14, and others are retirees who live nearby. Some come with books or reading glasses in hand, and they’re all here to spend some time with elementary students and show them how fun reading can be.

They are Philly Reading Coaches, part of a group of more than 500 coaches working in 28 sites across the city today. In early 2018, the Philly Reading Coaches program (PRC) launched in a few pilot locations. Now with its first full year of operation complete, PRC is producing promising results for young readers and has recently expanded to more sites in the 2019-20 school year.  

PRC pairs an elementary student in grades K to 3 with a volunteer reading “coach.” Because the program has expanded to more sites, PRC needs more volunteers. Anyone over the age of 14 is invited to complete an interest form and get in the game as a Philly Reading Coach!

Twice a week after school, students and reading coaches meet to read together in a low-stress environment where reading is fun and enjoyable. Students get to pick the books they read and are encouraged, but not required, to take the lead on reading aloud. In addition to the one-on-one time, students receive brand-new, popular books to take home, building their personal libraries. Students who attend PRC regularly can expect to take home 25 new books by the end of the school year.

PRC is an adaptation of the Oregon-based SMART model, an evidence-based, one-on-one volunteer early literacy intervention that has been shown to help children improve their reading skills.     

How does reading enjoyment and motivation impact reading ability? The research is clear. Studies of various literacy programs have shown significant improvement in students’ reading ability with just 60 minutes of one-on-one reading time each week over the course of a school year.

PRC is unique in its emphasis on the reading coach as well as the student. PRC recruits local volunteer coaches to work with children in their own communities. (Here's a firsthand account of what it’s like to be a Philly Reading Coach.) PRC prioritizes civic engagement and is working to develop metrics to understand the impact of the program on volunteers and understand if programs reliant on a strong civic engagement model can help increase civic health metrics in Philadelphia.   

PRC is working with MDRC, an education and social policy research organization, to evaluate the program. In its first year, PRC served nearly 500 children at 17 sites and distributed 5,851 books. Sites were located across Philadelphia at recreation centers, libraries, Police Athletic League locations, and elementary schools.

What did PRC learn about its first year?

  • In preliminary evaluation results measured by the Me and My Reading Profile, PRC students showed an increase in their motivation to read over time.
  • PRC students saw slight gains in their self-concept as readers, meaning they think of themselves as better readers.
  • PRC students also looked for more opportunities to engage with print.


While these results are preliminary, we are optimistic that the more a child attends PRC over the course of a year, the more significant the results will be.

PRC’s focus on helping students gain confidence in their reading abilities and discover a love of reading fills an important role in the out-of-school time (OST) landscape here in Philadelphia. As a key component of the Philadelphia Citywide Out-of-School Time Initiative, PRC provides a model for other OST programs for how literacy can be integrated into programming.

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