How to create an ‘inky’ environment for teaching reading and writing


Khatirah Mohammadi, a petite fourth-grader dressed in pink, sat at a small reading table at F.C. Joyce Elementary School, slowly sounding out words in a storybook.

Jessica Seibold, a volunteer tutor, leaned in as well, listening.

“She …cannot… see…the…bug,” Khatirah pronounced. She smiles hopefully, swinging leopard-print shoes beneath her chair.

“”That’s right!” Seibold said. “Good job!”

Khatirah is among thousands of young Sacramentans who are behind their age-group level on reading skills. That number has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and sent children home for nearly a year.

Like Khatirah, who is a recent immigrant from Afghanistan, many of those young readers come from families of lesser means and attend schools such as F.C. Joyce in North Highlands where poverty rates are high.

It’s a critical moment in education. That’s where Seibold’s local Sacramento nonprofit organization comes in, and why it is asking for your financial support this holiday season via The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams program.

Seibold is a volunteer at 916 Ink, a service organization that was founded a dozen years ago by educators, youth advocates and writers, initially to offer a creative-writing program for students.

More recently, amid the pandemic, that group joined with others to launch the Read On literacy tutoring program, which is essentially an intervention effort aimed at first-through-fifth-graders who are falling behind.

“We needed to get in at that ground level to catch students before they were impacted more,” said Christina Nelson, the Read On program manager for 916 Ink. “Students we target are striving readers, already behind, and we knew their gaps were going to grow.”

What the reading program needs

The initial reading courses were taught by volunteer tutors online, linking via computers with students in their homes. The Read On Program has since been transitioning into an on-campus tutoring program, although the agency’s tutors also still conduct some virtual tutoring.

“Kids need face-to-face interaction,” said Nikki Cardoza, 916 Ink director of resources. “Kids want to interact with people. That is the value of doing it in person.”

But to do that well, the group needs to offer Khatirah and other students comfortable, supportive and enriching spaces on campus with more books and educational materials to draw from.

The 916 Ink group has asked readers of the Book of Dreams for $3,000 in donations to help their volunteer tutors create those spaces and to equip them with reading libraries and other educational materials.

The agency already has created those spaces at several schools it serves in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The new donations received from Book of Dreams benefactors will be spent at two new tutoring sites that launched this fall in the Twin Rivers Unified School District, which serves North Sacramento, Del Paso Heights, Robla, Rio Linda, North Highlands and adjacent areas.

The two schools are F.C. Joyce, which Khatirah attends, and Michael J. Castori Elementary School.

Jessica Seibold with Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, gestures to her nose while working with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari during his tutoring session at F.C. Joyce Elementary School on Nov. 15, 2023.Jessica Seibold with Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, gestures to her nose while working with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari during his tutoring session at F.C. Joyce Elementary School on Nov. 15, 2023.

Jessica Seibold with Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, gestures to her nose while working with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari during his tutoring session at F.C. Joyce Elementary School on Nov. 15, 2023.

To inspire students to read

In their application for funding, 916 Ink wrote: “Literacy is the foundation for success in life, academics, and careers – yet less than half of fourth-graders in Sacramento County have met grade-level reading standards.”

If a student is not a proficient reader by fourth grade, that student will be unable to understand and follow more than half of school curricula from that point forward, and could be at risk of dropping out of school early, educators say.

“An ability to read and write is essential for thriving in our increasingly complex and literate world,” the 916 Ink group wrote. “Those who possess strong literacy skills are equipped with the power to connect with, comprehend, and interpret the world around them. Not only does this benefit the individual but it also ultimately benefits the community at large, allowing for a dynamic and growth-oriented populace.”

In total, 916 Ink is operating its Read On program this year in five schools. The goal is to enroll 100 students, or approximately 20 students per school, and then grow from there in succeeding years.

The group’s reading curriculum and methodology is anchored in evidence-based reading strategies, Nelson said, and all tutors receive structured, ongoing training and support.

Zuzu Schmitke, 916 Ink’s Read On program coordinator at the two new schools, said the requested donations will allow for teaching areas at the two new schools to be more “inky.”

Yes, inky.

“We want to add our own ‘inkyness’ to the rooms,” said Schmitke. That means more than just new books. It’s about the feel of the environment. “We want the rooms to be comfortable, where students can feel inspired and confident that they can succeed.”

Read On! tutor, Jessica Seibold, works with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari on his reading exercise at F.C. Joyce Elementary School during his tutoring session earlier this month.Read On! tutor, Jessica Seibold, works with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari on his reading exercise at F.C. Joyce Elementary School during his tutoring session earlier this month.

Read On! tutor, Jessica Seibold, works with fifth grader Yousuf Ghafari on his reading exercise at F.C. Joyce Elementary School during his tutoring session earlier this month.

Positive reinforcement breeds confdence

At F.C. Joyce Elementary on Watt Avenue, Khatirah finished her half-hour one-on-one reading lesson and happily put a new sticker on her reading journal cover.

Mohd Yousuf Ghafari, a fifth-grader who goes by Yousuf, sat beside Seibold. A few feet away, tutor Kyah Hurd worked with a second-grade student.

Yousuf, also an immigrant, practiced reading words on Seibold’s laptop, while one hand tugged at the heel of his shoe. His voice grew in confidence as he picked up speed.

In the text, a bird has landed on someone’s ice cream cone. “Would you eat an ice cream that a bird landed on?” Seibold asked. “No!” Yousuf said.

“I wouldn’t either. Is she mad?” “No, she’s sad,” Yousuf said.

“Let’s see how you did,” Seibold said. “You got eight out of eight! Congratulations!”

Yousuf grinned.

Seibold, a Sacramento State University student who is a California College Corps service program fellow, said reading program tutors are also trying to instill self-confidence in young students. “Confidence is one of the biggest hurdles. So we offer a lot of positive reinforcement.”

Her tutoring colleague, Kyah Hurd, an AmeriCorps member, said she sometimes lets the children teach her a few words in Farsi, Spanish or another language to give them a chance to show that they, too, have knowledge and abilities they can share.

Now, Schmitke, Seibold and Hurd, the tutoring trio at F.C. Joyce Elementary, sayid they just need to add that “inkyness” to their room, if they can get some public donations through the Book of Dreams.

School officials said they are delighted to have 916 Ink and its “ReadOn!” program on board, especially because limited school budgets have forced cutbacks. Many teachers at F.C. Joyce, for instance, no longer have teaching assistants in their class, school Principal Tiffany Harris said.

“We are extremely grateful to have 916 Ink at our campus,” Harris said. “This fills a huge gap. Right now our performance scores are pretty low. Many teachers do not have instructional aides in the classroom. So 916 Ink is coming in and creating those small reading intervention groups, that one-on-one tutoring, and allowing students to grow and celebrate their growth.”

“When students participate in programs like this, when parents opt in to these opportunities, those students have an opportunity to be positive contributors to society.”

Jessica Seibold with the Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, works with F.C. Joyce Elementary School fifth grader, Yousuf Ghafari, earlier this month. 916 Ink is asking Book of Dreams readers for donations to expand its literacy tutoring programs.Jessica Seibold with the Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, works with F.C. Joyce Elementary School fifth grader, Yousuf Ghafari, earlier this month. 916 Ink is asking Book of Dreams readers for donations to expand its literacy tutoring programs.

Jessica Seibold with the Read On a literacy tutoring program of 916 Ink, works with F.C. Joyce Elementary School fifth grader, Yousuf Ghafari, earlier this month. 916 Ink is asking Book of Dreams readers for donations to expand its literacy tutoring programs.

Book of Dreams

The request: 916 Ink is asking Book of Dreams readers to help buy materials and create spaces for its literacy tutoring program.

The cost: $3,000.

Donate now

To claim a tax deduction for 2023, donations must be postmarked by Dec. 31, 2023. All contributions are tax-deductible and none of the money received will be spent on administrative costs. Partial contributions are welcome on any item. In cases where more money is received than requested for a given need, the excess will be applied to meeting unfulfilled needs in this Book of Dreams. Funds donated in excess of needs listed in this book will fulfill wishes received but not published and will be donated to social service agencies benefiting children at risk. The Sacramento Bee has verified the accuracy of the facts in each of these cases and we believe them to be bona fide cases of need. However, The Bee makes no claim, implied or otherwise, concerning their validity beyond the statement of these facts.



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