UVU launches partnership with United Way to increase literacy

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 9:05 p.m. MST

Tyler Sobotka helps Leslie Ruiz read her book as Utah Valley University students, faculty and staff join United Way of Utah County Monday, Dec., 3, 2012, in a multiyear University Project for Civic Engagement to increase literacy and numeracy among kids K-12.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland came to the South Franklin Community Center here Monday and described how his love of learning was ignited by the books his parents bought for him when he was a child.

His parents, Holland said, were in the midst of graduate school and didn't have the money to buy him a proper bed, but made sure he was surrounded by books. He talked specifically about a set of children's books on American History which impressed on him the lessons of industry, accomplishment and hard work.

“They put me in an environment of books," he said of his parents. "They put me in an environment of intellectual stimulation and personal aspiration that could be ignited by books and the reading of great books.”

His remarks came during the launch of the University Project for Civic Engagement, a multi-year partnership between UVU and the United Way of Utah County to increase literacy and numeracy skills for children.

"At a very personal level, this project resonates most deeply," Holland said. "We've got to help these parents. We've got to help these students. We've got to turn them on to literacy and math and the power of doing that early on in life will carry them on a trajectory that will make all the difference."

The project is designed as a way to unite the university's resources toward a common goal, said Brian Birch, associate vice president for engaged learning at UVU. A number of services are planned as part of the project, with opportunities for UVU students to participate in the teaching process, and officials hope to develop a number of sustainable services that will exist beyond the initial term of the partnership.

“We are committed as an institution to finding ways to put our money where our mouth is on projects like this that really bring the resources of the university together in a focused way so we can make an impact in our local community and region,” Birch said.

While the project will involve services for children of all grade levels, a particular focus is helping students reach grade-level proficiency in reading and math by the third grade. Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County, said that his organization has looked at research that shows that 30 percent of third-grade students in Utah County are below grade level, and even at that age the odds of eventually graduating from high school are greatly diminished.

"We realized something had to be done," he said.

Hulterstrom said the collaboration with UVU has already yielded results. The United Way continues to seek out community partners, he said, but to have thousands of students and faculty members dedicated to help is an amazing addition to the community efforts of his organization.

"These tutors, trained by the university, have already made a phenomenal impact," he said.

Luke Peterson, UVU's director of community partnership, said the university hopes to have reached a goal of 50,000 volunteer hours by the spring of 2014. He said student involvement – through mentoring, volunteering in classrooms or other services – is a key component to the partnership. But he said the faculty and administration of UVU will also be involved in the project through research and development of services.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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