A Trenton nonprofit is helping elementary school students improve their reading skills

The Community Schools Reading Intervention program was developed by elementary school officials and Mercer Street Friends during the pandemic.

A young girl holding up her favorite book

Second grader Raelyn read from one of her favorite books, "Pop, Pop Popcorn." (David Matthau/WHYY)

From Camden and Cherry Hill to Trenton and the Jersey Shore, what about life in New Jersey do you want WHYY News to cover? Let us know.

A nonprofit in Trenton, N.J., is helping younger students read at grade level. Bernie Flynn, the CEO of Mercer Street Friends, said the Community Schools Reading Intervention program was developed in partnership with elementary school officials during the pandemic.

During a ceremony at Trenton’s Luis Muñoz-Rivera Elementary School, first and second graders who completed the program were given certificates of achievement. They then read aloud to parents, friends and relatives attending the ceremony.

“It is so critical for our children to be able to learn to read well, so that after that they can read to learn,” Flynn said. “Reading is a fundamental skill and it is critical in our view to provide this kind of support early in a student’s experience.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Principal Olivia Russo congratulated the students, who proudly marched into the gymnasium on a path created with glittering golden paper.

“Back when I was in second grade my teacher Mrs. Abrams took out a book and read to the entire class,” she said. “She read to us ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and it transported me to places I had never imagined, it changed my life.”

Russo said a few months later her teacher gave her a copy of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and that turned her into “a lover of books, a reader for life.”

“I’m sure that is what our reading intervention teachers are here doing for our children,” she said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Karen Driscoll, a retired Trenton teacher, was recruited to work in the program.

“The beauty of it is we work with three students at a time,” she said. “So you can give them the extra attention that they need and really hone in on which skills they need assistance with. “I have one student who just last week broke the code of reading, we were reading a book about frogs and when he realized ‘I can read a book and learn about something,’ it was like a light bulb moment.”

Second grader Raelyn was thrilled to get her reading certificate. She said one of her favorite books is “Pop, Pop Popcorn” and proceeded to read a section of the book aloud in a clear and calm voice.

“I like reading because it can show you how to learn new words,” said Raelyn, who wants to be a doctor when she grows up.

During the ceremony, Frank O’Brien, the chair of the New Jersey State Golf Association Youth Foundation, presented Mercer Street Friends with a $25,000 donation.

“We were very enamored with the reading intervention program, and we’ve made a determination that we wanted to make an impact on this program, we feel it is very, very much needed,” he said.

Mercer Street Friends was founded as a social services organization in 1958. Since 2017, the group has been working with Trenton schools to remove barriers to learning.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal