LEXINGTON – The Helping One Student To Succeed reading program, known as HOSTS, turns 20 years old this year and continues to thrive at Morton Elementary School.
The one-of-a-kind program at Morton, no other Lexington school offers it, allows high school students and volunteers from the community to mentor students from first grade to fourth grade, who are having trouble meeting reading benchmarks and struggle to read at the suggested grade level, said Mary Smith, coordinator for the HOSTS program.
About 75 Morton students are in the HOSTS program, which requires them to attend a 30-minute lesson four days a week, where they get one-on-one help reading, doing written exercises and play the occasional game.
Fifty-two high school juniors and seniors, along with about 80 community volunteers serve as reading mentors for the students, Smith said.
“It means so much to them [Morton students] that this person is here just for me. It helps push them over the bubble,” Smith said about the important personalized support of a mentor, which can help elementary students overcome the reading gap ‘bubble’ that prevents them from reading at grade level.
Even though fiction reading is very popular among Morton students, Smith said she also incorporates non-fiction reading and events into daily activities, to showcase important events or people.
Readings and events commemorating Dr. Seuss’s birthday and the Alaskan sled-dog race, the Iditarod, are scheduled for this week, Smith said.
“It gives you a background to see if you’re very good with kids,” said Lexington High School senior, Carlos Orantes, about being a HOSTS mentor. “It’s also challenging.
“It is a way to get away from school for a while,” he said.
Smith said for some HOSTS mentors, volunteering for the program isn’t just about giving back but continuing the tradition of mentors helping students.
“Some high school students went to Morton and were in HOSTS now they help the younger students,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the popularity of the program among adult volunteers has inspired various mentors to help more than one student, sometimes on multiple days.
For Cameron Smith, an adult HOSTS mentor who volunteered with the program when he was in high school in Lexington, mentoring is a way to give back to the community and help students, he said.
“Seeing the kids improve, and seeing them at the middle school,” were some of the highlights of being a HOSTS mentor Cameron said, noting he sees students he mentored when he was in high school at the middle school now that they’re growing up.
For Kyle Heineman, who also was a HOSTS mentor when he was in high school and continues to volunteer, seeing students overcome reading difficulties was one of the most rewarding aspects about being a mentor.
“The progression of the kid from the beginning of the year to the end, they put sentences together better,” he said. “It is rewarding to know you’ve impacted them.”