As United Way Niagara continues to work locally to raise funds and invest in programming that improves lives in our community, we remain committed to supporting kids to be all that they can be. United Way strives to ensure children reach their full potential through increasing connectedness, engagement in learning and improved emotional and physical wellbeing.

Every summer, children forget some of what they learned during the previous school year, but now experts are warning that because of disruptions due to COVID-19, students will have a lot more lost learning to make up for. Children who are affected by learning disabilities are at even more of a disadvantage. Having programs available that can build their confidence and solidify a love for learning can make all the difference.

One such program that has helped kids in Niagara immensely is Reading Rocks. Organized by the Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region (LDANR) and supported by United Way funding, participants work one-to-one with a trained tutor to enhance their literacy skills such as phonics principles, sight word knowledge, and reading fluency. Sessions are taught using a combination of direct instruction and engaging literacy games and activities.

When COVID hit, so much of our collective lives were forced to change. By staying apart to help protect one another many individuals in our community were negatively affected. To go from in-person learning to completely online amidst a global pandemic is a challenge that no one was ready for. The Reading Rocks program assists children with their literacy development through fun and interactive activities that often were supported in-person – and then were forced online.

What LDANR found with the online programming however is that it has allowed for expanded reach to less-central areas of the region. They now have greater geographic representation of families with the option of online programming.

“Online, we still wanted to maintain that ‘fun’ aspect, so our Program Coordinators spent a lot of time and effort finding websites and online tools to recreate the type of games and activities they may play in person to practice the skills,” said Samantha Sendzik-Sinclair, Executive Director at LDANR. “We have been so impressed with the creativity demonstrated by our volunteers; they have really found a way to adapt their instruction to keep the kids engaged.”

Obviously, there were challenges to the online learning environment such as at-home background distractions and technical issues but, overall, the team was able to pivot and allow the online program to be just as successful as in-person programming.

Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region often hear qualitative feedback from parents about how the child’s teacher has mentioned that they ‘are now working at grade level’ or the student has ‘improved significantly in their literacy levels’, or that participants are more willing to participate in class due to increased confidence. Since the program is offered for students in Grade 1 through 8, a student could join the program in Grade 1, and stay in the program until Grade 8. That said, students participate in multiple program seasons, until their child is up to grade level, at which point they may decide they no longer need to participate.

“We are so grateful that United Way Niagara recognizes the need for this program as well, and continues to support the LDANR so that we could offer ongoing support to families affected by learning disabilities.” said Samantha Sendzik-Sinclair.

Learn more about how United Way is helping kids be all they can be.