INSPIRED. The Augustine Literacy Project

INSPIRED. The Augustine Literacy Project

For Barbara Yuskevich, literacy is a passion.

Yuskevich is the founder of the all-volunteer Lee County Literacy Council, which makes its primary goal to “improve the reading, writing, spelling and comprehension of children and adults” through “research-based literacy instruction in a nurturing environment.”

And nowhere is that goal – and Yuskevich's passion for literacy – more evident than at B.T. Bullock Elementary School in Sanford, where the Literacy Council's Augustine Literacy Project is at work to help first and second graders improve their reading skills to at or even above grade level.

An Augustine tutor helps a student with his reading.

“The Augustine Project came from Chapel Hill, where there was a parent who couldn't get her child properly educated because she was dyslexic,” Yuskevich said. “So she began a tutoring project in Chapel Hill that eventually became what we're doing now.”

Through the Augustine Literacy Project, 15 tutors – each of whom has 30 hours of training before ever setting foot in a classroom – work one-on-one with first and second graders at Bullock who have been identified through state-mandated mClass assessments as being below reading level for their grade. Because first graders are expected to grow a whopping six reading levels through the course of the year, the program provides an often-necessary service to many, and the research-based, phonetic-structured program has been proven to work.

An Augustine tutor helps a student with his reading.

“We do a lot of syllable work, teaching them how to break words down into syllables and then put them back together,” Yuskevich explained. “One key thing is we have the children tap the sounds out with their fingers, and then say the whole word, so they're acting out something physical while they're doing the spelling.”

Bullock Principal Stefanie Clarke said the Augustine Literacy Project, under which the students receive the tutoring twice each week, is important for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that it doesn't require any additional work for the classroom teachers.

“It's such a luxury for the teachers to have,” she said. “Barbara and her tutors do all the hard work – I just open the doors and ask them to come in. Her team is just the sweetest, kindest group of people. They're all sort of grandparent age, and I think there's something really sweet and special about that connection.”

An Augustine tutor times how long it takes a student to read specific words.

Because each child starts at a different point, the tutoring is highly customized, always positive – there's no red ink, for example, which emphasizes confidence building and allowing children to make mistakes – and re-assessments are frequent.

“It's a constant litmus of how the students are growing and progressing,” Clarke said.

As such, it's not uncommon to see students begin the program far below grade level in reading skills and advance quickly – sometimes going up as many as four or five levels in a matter of months. 

“We've seen some really incredible changes,” Yuskevich said. “And it happens again and again and again. The staff here has been phenomenal, and (Clarke) really has a heart for the kids.”

Yuskevich said the program is always looking for volunteer tutors, and those interested in becoming a part of the program can visit the Lee County Literacy Council’s website at or call (919) 708-2178.

Inspired is a digital digest published each week during the academic year by Lee County Schools to highlight accomplishments of students, faculty and staff. 

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