Community Reading Buddies

Youth-Led Early Literacy

Over the summer, over two hundred junior high and high school students volunteer to spend time reading one-on-one with PreK – 3rd graders from Child Development Centers (Oakland Unified) in the East Bay.

40 – 60 teenage “Youth Mentors” visit Oakland’s preschools every day and lead their younger “Buddies” through an eight-week literacy and school readiness curriculum, preparing and supporting them to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond.

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About Community Reading Buddies

In Oakland, only one in three low-income children enter Kindergarten ready for school, and the same proportion are not reading on grade level once in third grade. Worse still, the research now confirms that for those who start behind, it is very difficult to catch up. However, recent longitudinal studies show that building reading skills early through one-on-one interaction can flip these dire statistics upside-down. In fact, “89 percent of students in poverty who did read on level by 3rd grade graduated on time,” with early reading skills a better predictor of graduation than income level or neighborhood. With only 61% of Oakland high school students graduating, it is clear that Oakland’s most vulnerable youth are in need of rich early learning experiences that prepare them to succeed in school. We at Aspire Education Project are committed to providing those critical early supports through the Community Reading Buddies program.

Each summer, well over two hundred junior high and high school students from across the East Bay volunteer with Community Reading Buddies (CRB) and spend time one-on-one with preschoolers at Child Development Centers in Oakland. The teenage volunteers act as mentors, facilitating the younger children’s language and literacy development through book sharing, activities and play time. Youth Mentors receive training reflecting the latest research on effective practices to support budding literacy in young children.

Experts in early literacy widely agree that one-on-one interactive book reading is a valuable tool for supporting the development of early literacy and language skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Early Childhood, “reading with children in their… preschool years is associated with higher language skills at school entry and with childhood literacy acquisition.” CRB Mentors not only read books with their Buddies, but also use evidence-based interactive techniques to enrich the reading experience. Mentors learn how to:

● Help students understand how print works

● Talk with children during reading to encourage critical thinking and narrative skills

● Train students to recognize the sounds that make up words

● Develop their Buddies’ alphabet knowledge

Current research also points to the crucial importance of oral language skills in students’ later literacy development. For this reason, Youth Mentors receive specific training in how to nurture their young Buddies’ developing conversation skills. Mentors use multiple elements of highly effective oral language instruction: they engage children in conversation, use unknown vocabulary words, take turns listening and responding to what children are saying, and use open-ended questions to make program time more interactive.This work occurs during both reading and play time, which is taken as an indispensable opportunity for oral language development.

Finally, the one-to-one nature of CRB, with each Buddy receiving two dedicated 90-minute sessions per week from their Mentor, is also proven to be a highly impactful approach. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences’ review of the research, the gold standards for the field include “one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers.” From its beginning over twenty-one years ago, CRB has prioritized providing that one-to-one, skill-building experience to the Oakland children it serves. Community Reading Buddies transfers knowledge in multiple directions—the Buddies improve their early literacy and language skills, the Youth Mentors learn effective teaching practices, and everyone learns more about each other and the greater East Bay community.

Donors and Partners

Quest Foundation

For over a decade, the Quest Foundation has supported communities globally as well as right here in the Bay Area, with a focus on broadening educational opportunities. In 2017 they extended their partnership to Community Reading Buddies, and the quest to make literacy thrive in Oakland.

Rogers Family Foundation

The Rogers Family Foundation is committed to improving educational opportunity and supporting organizations that align themselves in improving the quality of education amongst Oakland students. One of the three key initiatives set by the foundation in order to close the achievement gap is investing in early literacy for children of low-income families.

Clorox Corporation Foundation

The Clorox Company Foundation provides grants to local programs in Oakland, CA that contribute to youth and education development. Our Youth Mentors are given support by the foundation for leadership development in addition to improving the academic performance of children, especially in literacy. Together we strive to promote positive relationships among youth from diverse cultural and ethnic groups.

Charlie and Karen Couric Donor Advised Fund of the East Bay Community Foundation

In an era of declining public funding for quality PreK in underserved communities, the Charlie and Karen Couric Donor Advised Fund stepped into the breach to make Community Reading Buddies’ expansion into 40% more Oakland classrooms a reality. We, and the children of Oakland, are greatly indebted to their care and generosity for Oakland’s youngest and most vulnerable.

The Barrios Trust

The Barrios Trust (TBT) was founded in 1999 and continues to provide support within the Oakland community in the form of grants to youth-centered programs. It focuses on programs that encourage healthy habits of mind and body, nourish cultural diversity and educate the whole child.

West Davis & Bergard Foundation

A new foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area supporting Community Reading Buddies with purchases of books and funding curricula.


Community Reading Buddies could not run without the support of volunteers, youth mentors, and the families that donate generously to meet the basic costs of the program. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated to sustain the needs of the program. You can donate here!

Tandem Partners in Early Learning

Tandem Partners in Early Learning is rooted in the belief that high-quality early learning and strong family bonds can break the cycle of poverty and build brighter futures for children. We are grateful to partner with Tandem for volunteer training and the program’s Family Reading Celebrations.

Mechanics Bank

Mechanics Bank is a community bank that has been serving the Bay Area since 1905.  The bank is committed to early childhood literacy and is a proud donor of Community Reading Buddies.


Crushpix is a creative full-service San Francisco Bay Area video production team that serves innovative companies, non-profits, and advertising agencies. They selflessly created our Community Reading Buddies video for us, and we are incredibly appreciative for the hard work and dedication they put into this project.

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First Graduate

Aspire Education Project created a custom 10-week ACT class for two groups of First Graduate students, juniors in high school who plan on being the first in their families to attend college. Over the span of the course students increased their ACT scores across all sections of the test. They applied new content knowledge and test-taking strategies to grow their confidence and abilities.
Partner since 2016


SHE-CAN works to equip and empower young women from post-conflict countries to become leaders who change their nations. These young women are passionate about attending a U.S. college or university but need guidance in the application process. In 2018, our instructor led tailored small-group video classes for scholars in Rwanda and Cambodia working on SAT and ACT prep. With Aspire’s support these dedicated scholars increased their SAT scores by an average of 125 points
Partner since 2015

Bentley School

Aspire tutors have worked on Bentley’s Upper School campus for more than a decade providing one on one academic support. This long history means that our tutors are very familiar with the challenges of the Bentley curriculum from Honors Chemistry to the toughest English Seminars. We are proud to be one of the only tutoring organizations that Bentley works with.
Partner since 2005

Met West High School

Aspire Education Project has partnered with Met West to support over ten SAT classes for Juniors in the past five years. In our most recent program, instructors met with students on campus during the school day twice a week to maximize attendance and accountability.
Partner since 2013

Head Royce School

Aspire Education Project works closely with Head Royce School to provide their students on tuition assistance with affordable one-on-one academic tutoring. Our tutors meet with students on campus during their free periods to provide support in all academic subjects. We are proud to be Head Royce School’s most recommended tutoring service.
Partner since 2006

Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. of Alameda County equips girls to defy limitations and stereotypes, attend college, break the cycle of poverty, and move into a thriving future. Aspire Education Project works with the Girls Inc. middle school program to prepare students for the High School Placement Test (HSPT). Students who are applying to private parochial schools on academic and athletic scholarships take this test as part of their application process.
Partner since 2013

Lighthouse Community Charter School

Aspire’s SAT Class at Lighthouse Community Charter School was so popular, we added an additional instructor to ensure a low student to teacher ratio. This class featured two full length practice tests, proctored on campus, for students to practice applying strategies and concepts to the real test taking environment.
Partner since 2018

Rising Sun Energy Center

Rising Sun Energy Center has served the Bay Area for more than 20 years. Their Green Energy Training Services (GETS) program provides job training, case management, and job placement support to low-income adults who enter the program with barriers to successful employment. Participants pay nothing to participate and gain the skills they need to enter careers in construction and solar industries. Aspire Education Project connected with Rising Sun to create a holistic applied math for construction curriculum. We also provide math instructors for the applied math course that give participants the skills they need to pass trades tests and use math on the job.
Partner since 2017

One Treasure Island

One Treasure Island is a nonprofit focused on eliminating barriers for low-income or formerly homeless individuals and families. Aspire Education Project provides a tailored math course for the One TI Construction Jobs Program that focuses on measuring tape math skills necessary for all new construction workers.
Partner since 2018

San Francisco Conservation Corps

Aspire Education Project led the applied math course for SFCC’s Apprenticeship Readiness Construction Training Program. As part of the California Workforce Development Board, participants in this program go through a 4-week intensive training that prepares them for a career in the building trades. This class focused on measuring tape skills, geometry for construction, and algebra.
Partner since 2018

Oakland Public Library

Aspire Education Project works with the Oakland Public Library- Diamond Branch to offer drop in tutoring services free of charge for the community. This program ran on a small scale in the spring of 2018 and we are hopeful that we may be able to expand it in the future.
Partner since 2018