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STARS Book Club helps boost Waco ISD student reading levels

Approximately three million Texas adults read below a third-grade reading level, with 19 percent of Texans lacking basic literacy skills. As Waco ISD continues developing the district's literacy systems and decreases the third-grade reading gap, the STARS Book Club shared that its growing program is contributing to the students’ love of reading. The organization provided each book club student in Waco ISD with a new book and filled the Free Little Libraries with another 576 books in the first semester of the school year.


STARS director, Autumn Newman, said the book club has grown to include 600 WISD second through fifth graders who meet with mentors from 28 Waco-area churches.


Over the past eleven years, STARS Book Clubs has grown from a few reading groups at Provident Heights to a city-wide program involving hundreds of volunteers from churches all over Waco,” Newman said. “Through the service of these mentors, we have seen students improve in reading proficiency, develop a love for reading, and gain a confidence that often extends beyond the page.”


Preliminary STAAR score data reveals that WISD elementary students continue to grow in literacy levels, with both West Avenue Elementary and South Waco Elementary improving third grade scores by more than 20 percent and fifth graders throughout the district having their highest reading scores since 2014. Waco ISD middle school students have also made noticeable gains on the reading STAAR test. Data shows that third through twelfth grade students have exceeded pre-pandemic reading test scores. 


“The STARS Books Club has been a phenomenal partner with Waco ISD, and we are so grateful for their consistent support of our students. The time that our local church volunteers are pouring into our students is making a difference,” Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. “Gains in reading proficiency will impact a student for life, not just on a state test.” 


STARS Book Club, created in 2013 by Stephanie Korteweg, a former WISD elementary teacher and the current WISD Board of Trustees president, founded the organization by recruiting volunteers from her church to mentor students weekly, enjoying lunch, while practicing reading skills. 


“I think in one word it’s transformative, both for the volunteers and for the students,” Korteweg said. “I have seen many kids gain the confidence they need to keep tackling harder and harder books, and it’s that confidence which spills over into other areas of a student’s academic and personal life.”


Mentors shared that students aren't the only ones benefiting from the STARS program. 


“It’s been such a meaningful experience and has gotten me out of my comfort zone to serve others,” Mountainview Elementary School mentor Hannah Ohms said.


STARS Book Club is a non-profit organization that relies on the help of volunteers to mentor students as they grow their reading abilities. As STARS book clubs continue to grow, there is an increased need for volunteers, with 150 students waiting to be in book clubs and more than 50 volunteers needed. Volunteer applications are currently being accepted at for the Spring semester.


“When our STARS coordinators are out on school campuses, there is not a single day when they don’t hear the question, ‘When can I be in a Book Club?” Newman said. “We are always eager to train more volunteers so we can ensure that each one of these students can have a book club mentor.”