Giving Back: ARISE2Read

Giving Back: ARISE2Read

Life has an uncanny way of guiding people to their greater purpose. It uses each person’s experiences to give them the talents and skills necessary for making a true difference. This is what ARISE2Read’s Executive Director, Karen Vogelsang, found, when after working 14 years in the banking industry, she received a very clear message from the Lord: “you need to be a teacher.” Some might ignore this message as a fleeting thought, but not Vogelsang. Instead, she went back to school and obtained her Master’s degree in Elementary Education and began teaching first through fourth grades in Frayser. It was during this time where her passion for teaching and education grew; so much so, that she was bestowed the honor of Tennessee Teacher of the year in 2015.

After 15 years of teaching in Memphis City Schools, Karen once again heard that familiar voice nudging her toward a career change, but this time coming from ARISE2Read’s Founder, Donna Gaines, who asked her to step into the role of Executive Director. ARISE2Read’s mission is to support second graders in increasing their sight word recognition and reading comprehension by pairing them with adult volunteers who tutor students for one hour each week, September through April. The hope is that this one-on-one, face-to-face interaction between a student and his/her reading coach will ensure that students in the highest priority schools are reading at grade level by the time they enter the third grade.


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“The very specific skill we address is sight word fluency. We use the research based 1,000-word Fry Sight Word List which represents words that are most commonly found in text. Our goal is to help these children be at or above a third grade reading level by the time they enter third grade,” Vogelsang explains.

It’s imperative for students to be at reading level by third grade because up until that point they’re learning to read; after that, they are reading to learn. This makes third grade reading fluency critically important to children’s success as students and as they move beyond the classroom, eventually entering the workforce.

Lucky for Memphis and its students, the results of ARISE2Read’s efforts have been impactful. In the 2018-2019 school year, ARISE2Read supported 1,255 students in 34 schools across Memphis. The post-test results revealed an average gain of 324 words, which represents an average of just over three grade levels of growth. Post-test results also revealed a 247% increase in the number of second graders reading on sight word grade level in the 31 schools tested. And the news gets better, as research suggests that children in poverty who read proficiently by the end of the third grade have an 89% graduation rate which is the same as children coming from middle income families.

So how can you rise to the occasion? ARISE2Read is always looking for volunteers to serve as reading coaches, whether it be an individual or an entire group. There’s also an opportunity for businesses to adopt a school. There’s no shortage of opportunities to get plugged in, so as Donna Gaines herself puts it, “This is your city and these are your children, what are you going to do about it?” To learn more about ARISE2Read, visit their website at or call 901-347-5545.

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