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Voices: 'Power lunch' for literacy

Robert Thompson, formerly director of media relations for Mile High United Way, talks about the need for nonprofits and other organizations to get involved to boost literacy.
We have an early literacy challenge before us in Colorado.

A Power Lunch mentor working with a student. Photo courtesy of Mile High United Way
A Power Lunch mentor working with a student. Photo courtesy of Mile High United Way
Patrick Wall

Nearly one-third of Colorado third-graders are not reading at grade level and falling further behind, according to 2011 CSAP results.

We know that if a child fails to learn how to read by third grade, that child is more likely to drop out of high school and face enormous challenges in life.

So, why are some Colorado children slipping through the cracks when it comes to early literacy? The answers are many and varied. But, the most common include:

  • Lack of parental involvement in education due to challenging work schedules.
  • Little or no at-home reading time with parents and siblings.
  • Inadequate identification of reading challenges in the classroom.
  • Lack of mentors, reading coaches to work with and advocate for challenged readers.

The good news is that educators, elected officials and the nonprofit community recognize the issue of early literacy and are coming together to face it head-on.

One innovative solution involves collaboration between the business sector, Mile High United Way and Denver Public Schools.

Dubbed, ‘Power Lunch,’ the program enlists corporate volunteers to serve as reading buddies for the entire school year. Each week, Power Lunch volunteers visit their third grade reading buddy at school for 45 minutes of reading out loud and working on vocabulary and comprehension skills. Currently in its early stages, Power Lunch combines high-dosage literacy and mentorship to increase student engagement, improve attendance and raise reading scores for hundreds of third grade students in some of DPS’ highest-need schools.

Power Lunch is modeled after a highly successful corporate reading program in Chicago where it has demonstrated improved reading fluency, reduced reading frustration and improved focus for participating students.

In its first year in Denver, the program boasts 150 volunteers from seven local organizations working with over 100 students in five DPS elementary schools.

Data collection is ongoing and will be compiled and analyzed by the end of the current school year to measure the effectiveness of Power Lunch on the students’ reading skills.

Early indications show an increased interest in reading, higher self-esteem, increased vocabulary and improved attendance.

Plans are underway to expand Power Lunch into more schools reaching more students. Companies or organizations interested in volunteering or learning more about Power Lunch may contact Adeeb Khan, director of volunteerism at Mile High United Way at

Learn more about Power Lunch and other complimentary early literacy and school readiness programs by visiting the School Readiness page on the Mile High United Way web site,

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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