Dewayne Dickens: Catch Up and Read

Published November 23, 2021 at 11:35am.
Story by Mary King Moore. Photos courtesy of Catch Up and Read.

Catch Up & Read (CAR) launched in 2009 developing the most innovative and effective ways to support educational reform in schools in North Texas. The organization has a new Executive Director who brings a wealth of knowledge and nonprofit experience to the team. Dewayne Dickens, whose entire career has been in the nonprofit sector, spent over a decade with the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). He moved to Dallas from West Virginia in 2019. Let’s “catch up and read” with Dewayne!

How did you find your way from the Appalachian Mountains to the Big D?

“I grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia from a family full of coal miners. My parents instilled in me that I was going to do something other than go underground. I was the first in my family to graduate from college.” 

Dewayne Dickens, Executive Director, Catch Up and Read.

Dewayne graduated from West Virginia State University with an education degree. He started working at the local YMCA as a summer camp counselor. He was offered a full time position after completing his student teaching and fell in love with the nonprofit world. In 2007, Dewayne accepted the Executive Director position with RMHC and quickly knew it was where he was supposed to be. From repairing toilets at 10 am to asking for a million dollar donation at 1 pm he gained experience wearing a lot of hats. In twelve years he grew the staff from one to many and completed a capital campaign to build a new Ronald McDonald house. Dewayne transferred with RMHC to the Dallas location as the Chief Operating Officer. His wife is from McKinney, TX so they were familiar with the area. It wasn’t long before he was sought out by Catch Up & Read. He missed the executive role and was ready to experience a different organization. 

What attracted you to CAR?

“It really spoke to me because I have two children, Jack and Juliet, who both struggled with reading. It was heartbreaking watching their confidence shattered. After looking at the data from CAR and realizing they are doing it, it was an obvious choice for me.”

CAR is an after-school program serving students in first through third grades in the Dallas Independent School District. The program is currently in 16 schools. The organization collaborates with teachers, principals, and administrators to meet the educational needs of children. Dewayne stated the organization reviews student testing scores and places the lowest scoring students who would benefit in the program. They hire teachers within the schools and train them. These dedicated educators are given tools on how to help the students get to reading grade level by the third grade. The program is community funded and completely free to the students. The approach provides long-term improvements for students, teachers, and entire campuses resulting in equitable education for all children. 

Catch Up & Read has four solid values. How do you interpret each one? Why is curiosity a leading value?

“For me it goes back to our conversation about growing up in Appalachia.  Being curious about what is beyond those mountains or wherever you are living. It’s about what’s beyond those walls around you.”

Keeping curiosity at the forefront of the program is so important. Dewayne feels strongly that curiosity starts for so many of us with reading. Children may not have opportunities to travel, but with books you can be transported anywhere. The organization selects curiosity as a value because it ignites lifelong learning. The core values, Dewayne communicates, are what drives the program.


Unlocking Possibilities

Elevating Educators 


The second value is unlocking possibilities. What is the key to this?

“When you have kids that are scoring low on tests they may feel limited in possibilities, but with our program we are not limiting what they can achieve. We are showing them that it is possible to improve their reading.”

Education opens up opportunities for more talent and innovation for our community and for the world to be a better place. The key is providing a solid instructional foundation that meets the needs of every child in the after-school tutoring program. 

Why is elevating educators central to your work as Catch Up and Read partners with schools?

“We are able to use the research from the past decade and pass it along to the teachers that are in the schools, we provide a development program for them.” 

The teachers in the program are so dedicated to their work. During the course of a school year, collectively, a campus of teachers in the program will spend over 700 hours in professional development. They apply research-based best practices, where each teacher tutors up to 8 students after school. These teachers become experts in literacy instruction.   

How does science apply to Catch Up & Read?

“You know there is so much. There is so much more learning every day. Knowing the science behind what we do allows us to learn trends, which gives us the ability to stay at the forefront of the issues.”

Research and data drive efficacy and programming. The model enables CAR to reach more children and achieve long term impacts in the public schools. There is an increase in engagement along with academic gains.

As you guide this organization and get involved with more schools, we have to ask, what was your favorite subject in school?

“For me, it was anything to do with history or social studies. Especially US history. I found so many figures from the past intriguing and wanted to read as much as I could about presidents, the founding of our country, and the area I grew up in.”

What are you currently reading?

“Oh geez, that is a great question. For me these days many of my readings are probably considered boring. A lot of what I am reading is about leadership and development. One of my favorite authors is Harry Kraemer. He is the author of “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.”

Effective leadership is not boring and Dewayne is looking forward to expanding the CAR program into more schools while keeping the quality of programming at the highest standards. To do this, they need the support of the community and offer several ways to help. Businesses and other organizations can Adopt-A-School. Sponsors help offset program costs and participate in volunteer opportunities that align with the talents and schedules of the business employees. Individuals can sign up to make a one time or recurring donation. CAR is always looking for volunteers to support parent engagement, teacher recognition, and to serve as reading buddies in the after school program. 

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