PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A virtual program is expanding in Luzerne County as studies show kids in the local region could be as far as 18 months behind in reading due to COVID shutdowns and online schooling.

The toll of COVID has left its mark on schools nationwide, as students were faced with shutdowns and remote learning during the 2020 school year.

“There’s no question, kids need support. The pandemic hasn’t been kind to students. Many students are finding themselves behind and these early years are just so important,” stated Bill Jones, President, and CEO of United Way of Wyoming Valley.

The United Way of Wyoming Valley noticed this trend and changed its in-person reading program to an online program with the goal to expand its outreach.

“They were behind before, they’re further behind because of the pandemic, and school’s shifting in and out of remote, but now we need programs like this more than ever and it’s back to basics,” explained Jennifer Deemer, V.P. of Community Impact for United Way of Wyoming Valley.

The program was introduced to students at Solomon-Plains Elementary School in partnership with Wilkes University, Tuesday morning.

The students who need extra support spend one hour, once a week, with a volunteer to help improve the students’ early literacy skills.

“They’re helping them with basic concept skills, sight words, sounds and blends, a variety of reading techniques. That’s going to make them successful in the future,” said Justin Correll, Principal of Solomon-Plains Elementary School.

The literacy initiative is also offered at Kistler and Heights Murray Elementary.

“The whole purpose of the program is to spark an interest in young children around reading, especially children who are coming from homes where they may not be many books in the home,” Deemer added.

The United Way of Wyoming Valley is looking for more volunteers to work with these students. If you’d like to sign-up to be a volunteer, visit their website to learn how.