One to One reading, math coaches making a difference in Northern Kentucky

Become a One to One reading or math coach
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 12:00:50-04

What could you accomplish in 35 minutes?

In the time it takes to watch an episode of your favorite sitcom each week, you could help change a child's life. 

Barry Harsaran has been working with struggling elementary school readers for the past five years as a volunteer for One to One, a regional literacy and math coaching program. While the Union resident's commitment is just 35 minutes a week, the difference he's making is lasting, he said.

"You hear about needs in the community, especially in our schools, but wonder what you could do as an individual to really make a difference," Harsaran said. "As a reading or math coach, you're helping children develop skills that will benefit them for their entire life."

One to One is a program of the Northern Kentucky Education Council. The nonprofit trains volunteers to work one-on-one with first- through third-graders who are struggling with reading or math. The coaches practice with the same student for 35 minutes, once a week, using a simple format developed by the council.

Harsaran volunteers at Ninth District Elementary School in Covington, which is minutes away from his job at the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky. He coached a second-grader there last year who made strides in reading proficiency while the duo bonded over books about some of the youngster's favorite topics, including horses and baseball.

"He was always excited to see me, and it's something I looked forward to every week," said Harsaran, a finance manager. "Since you coach the same student all year, it's a really special relationship that forms."

That relationship between a coach and a child is the heart of the initiative, said Polly Page, the council's executive director. The program's organizers hope to facilitate a lot more of those relationships, but they need some help.

One to One is in 42 schools throughout Northern Kentucky, and there is a critical need for more coaches, Page said. The program launches in schools each October and runs through May.

 "Schools don't have enough coaches to match up with all the students who would benefit from the program," Page noted. "We need more volunteers to help meet that critical need."

Looking at last year's data, Page said more than 2,000 students in Northern Kentucky were not reading on grade level by the end of third grade. That's a problem, she explained, because third-grade reading proficiency is an important benchmark in a student's education and widely considered a key indicator of future success in school.

For students struggling with reading and math, intervention during the early primary grades is crucial, Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer said.

"These are key years for progress in those areas," he said. "If a student falls behind early, school becomes a real challenge."

Brewer is one of about 20 One to One coaches at Dayton's Lincoln Elementary School. Volunteers for the program there include school district and city officials, retired teachers and school board members.

"It's absolutely the best volunteer program we have in the district," he said. "The one-on-one attention is so important for our kids, and the relationship piece is a critical part of the program. We feel like it enriches the lives of our students and their coaches."

Glenn O. Swing Elementary School in Covington has had similar success with One to One. The school has about 10 coaches, and some work with multiple students each week.

"I wish we had 50 more," Glenn O. Swing Principal Scott Alter said. "Our coaches are here every week. They're consistent, dependable and well-trained to help our kids."

The school connects its coaches with students who are struggling not just with reading and math, but also with motivation and self-esteem, he said.

"I have seen our coaches turn kids completely around," Alter said. "We have never had a student in the program who didn't make progress."

The council has been tracking the progress of students in the program since the launch of One to One in 2008. It started as a pilot project with five schools and 35 coaches, and has grown to be one of the council's signature programs.

"It's a success because the program is designed to enhance what students are learning in class. Our teachers are the instructional experts," Page said. "This program augments what's already going on in the classroom."

For some students, the individual attention One to One coaches provide is the boost they need to be successful, Brewer said.

"When you're struggling a little bit, and one of 26 kids in a classroom, it's nice to be the center of attention. That's an important factor for a number of kids," he said. "It's also helpful for us to slow down sometimes and remember what it was like to be 8 years old. We can get a better sense of the challenges our kids are up against and how we can help."

How you can help

Training sessions: Training for new One to One coaches are in the fall, and there is still time to sign up to coach a child this school year. Opportunities are available throughout the school day in all 42 schools.

For details: Email Chris Perkins at or call 859-282-9214.