In 1984, Harriet Marmon Helmle and other concerned San Antonio business people committed to reducing functional illiteracy among the youth of our city by founding San Antonio Youth Literacy (SAYL). SAYL originally developed a media-based literacy program for at-risk high school students to combat illiteracy in San Antonio’s high schools. This program addressed illiteracy through the then innovative medium of video production. Students worked with video cameras, TV monitors, still cameras, and tape recorders. They worked in teams to write scripts, interview community leaders, and produce video segments that were interesting and relevant to teens.
The original program successfully taught literacy and technical and communication skills. It also fostered students’ self-image. Eventually, public school systems incorporated many of the elements of the SAYL program into the mandatory curriculum for all high school students. As a result, SAYL developed the “Let’s Read!” program to attack the problem of illiteracy at an earlier age.
In 1999, Shelley Bennack McCullough, then SAYL’s executive director, conceived and implemented the “Let’s Read!” program to foster strong literacy skills in elementary-aged children who are struggling with reading. Volunteer Reading Tutors are recruited and trained to work one-on-one with students who are reading below grade level.
During the summer of 2003 SAYL, in consultation with a reading specialist, revised and improved the “Let’s Read!” curriculum. Through this collaboration, “Let’s Read!” took another step in becoming a premier youth literacy program. One of the many improvements in the program is the addition of a reading grade level assessment. The assessment allows SAYL to accurately pinpoint the students most in need of tutoring and will help achieve the “Let’s Read!” program goals: To provide opportunities for guided reading practice with a caring individual, to foster an enjoyment of reading, and to enhance motivation and self-esteem of at-risk children through the experience of reading.
During the 2011-2012 school year SAYL underwent a tremendous expansion and doubled the number of students, volunteers and schools it served. It was at this time that SAYL began using the term “Reading Buddy” and since then has changed it’s program name to SAYL 2nd Grade Reading Buddy Program. The agency’s program and mission are still the same as they embark across the city in the effort to work with 2nd Grade students in Bexar county.