OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A faith-based mentoring and tutoring after-school program is in need of more volunteers to help metro students with their reading skills.

“I’m in fifth grade and stuff and so it’s a lot harder reading there because you have to like write and be able to read it to your classmates,” said Derek Powell.

Powell, 10, said he has been in Whiz Kids for about four years to get help with reading after school.

“Comprehending what you’re reading and trying to explain it to other people. That’s what I really think is kind of the hardest,” said Powell.

Through the City Care Program, Powell said he and his friends have built strong bonds with their mentors.

“Well, he knows, like, a lot of things, and I know a lot of things and we, like, are able to stay on the same track,” said the 5th grader.

Program director Amy Bruce said that’s what Whiz Kids is all about, building relationships and helping students who are at-risk of school failure. Bruce said after the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are two years behind in reading.

“We know if we can get these kids in elementary school and help them improve their reading scores, they have a much better chance of being successful in school and life,” said Bruce.

The program tracks the child’s progress in their regular classes. Bruce said after being brought to one of their 30 sites after school, eating a free meal, and some one-on-one reading time with their volunteer mentor, students tend to turn a new page.

“Our students typically score 33 points higher on their state test than a student from a matched circumstance that’s not part of our program,” said Bruce. “There’s always, always reports of better classroom performance, better behavior, better attendance at school.”

Whiz Kids help 508 students with 650 mentors across 30 elementary schools in Spencer, OKCPS, Crooked Oak, Crutcho, Mid-Del, Western Heights, Putnam City, Millwood, Moore and Guthrie school districts. There are now 150 students on the waiting list to get in to the program.

Now, Whiz Kids is looking for more than 175 volunteers to hit their goal of helping 20 kids per site.

Bruce said volunteers do not need to be certified teachers.

“We like to say if you can be a friend, you can be a mentor. If you can read, you can help a child,” said Bruce.

Bruce said Whiz Kids is only asking for three hours a week during the school year. However, she offers a fair warning. Most volunteers end up staying on much longer.

“If we want our children to be successful, if we want our state to be successful, we have to invest in our children,” said Bruce.

“It’s just very exciting to see kids walk out of the classroom and say, ‘Yeah, I did it!’” said Powell.

If you’d like to volunteer, you can call (405) 652-1112 or visit this website.