Reading Champs

Community members rise to the occasion and volunteer to support a literacy-tutoring program. Thankful for the help, the Hagerman Elementary School staff designs the tutoring instruction and coordinates materials. Meanwhile, they must deal with community misconceptions and the challenges of managing a corps of volunteers.

Ruth Wimbash decides to take a chance.

“Well, Lordy be…here we go again,” Ruth slowed her shopping cart to get a better look at the poster.

On her way out of the grocery store, Ruth Wimbash usually checked the community bulletin board. Although she’d been living in Craigston for nearly two years, she still didn’t feel at home, still didn’t feel any real connection to the people or the place. Ruth was widowed shortly after she and her husband had retired here, and she just hadn’t been able to find her niche since.

She’d gotten into the habit of reading the bulletin board notices and thinking about all the ways she might get involved. Sometimes she would even write down phone numbers, or tear off those little tabs of paper on the bottoms of the leaflets. Usually, when Ruth got home, the notes and numbers were lost, forgotten, or discarded with a shake of her head.

Tired of the let down that usually came with not following through, Ruth had decided that today will be different. Pushing her cart through the automatic doors, she had picked-up speed and vowed to not even look at the board.

Today was different, but not for the reasons Ruth was thinking. As she sped by and tried to avert her glance, a brightly colored poster managed to catch her eye. She found herself standing in front of the bulletin board once more.

“Well, Lordy be…,” she said again, shaking her head and digging through her purse to find a pen. She wrote the phone number on the side of her grocery bag large enough to fill its side. She figured that maybe then it would be too large to dismiss later.

See a copy of the Reading Champs poster that Ruth saw below:

Volunteer coordinator Artrice Harris and first grade teacher Paula Colt tackle book leveling and community perceptions.

Artrice Harris and Paula Colt are surrounded by stacks of leveled paperback books. They are sorting through the new Reading Champs materials in the Hagerman school library workroom.

“Sheesh! Look at all these books. This is great.” Artrice adds orange labels to the spines of two and adds them to the pile of early reader books.

Click here for information about leveling books by reading levels.

See a list of supplies needed for the Reading Champs Tutoring Program below:

“It’s a good start, but we’re going to need more, I think. You figure one child will need fifty to one hundred books for seven to eight months of tutoring. Multiply that by the thirty children in our pilot program, and it really adds up, even with some overlap.”

“Thirty students? That seems like a lot. How do you chose which ones get into Reading Champs?”

“Well, we survey our regular language arts assessments to see who needs extra support. I finished giving the fall assessments last week. This Michael is having a lot of trouble. I’m worried about him. He had a child study last spring, and his follow-up is scheduled for next week. It looks like we may have him evaluated for special ed services. Meanwhile, I hope this tutoring will help.” Paula pulls assessments from Michael’s student folder to show Artrice.

Mrs. Garrick’s students working in the computer lab.

See Michael’s DIBELS scores from spring of first grade below:

See Michael’s DIBELS expectations for spring of first grade below:

See Michael’s child study notes from spring of first grade below:

Their discussion is interrupted as Mrs. Claridge appears in the doorway. A parent of two former Hagerman students, she defies the odds and still helps out on Wednesday afternoons.

“Mrs. Claridge, how are you? Thanks so much for coming.”

“Well, you know I’m happy to help. But, I still don’t quite understand why this tutorial program is even necessary. I think it really is the job of the classroom teachers to make sure their students can read. You know, some of the moms in my neighborhood think this tutoring money would be just as well spent supporting the gifted program.”

Artrice’s raised eyebrows and Paula’s sigh do nothing to deter Mrs. Claridge, as usual. “Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. There are plenty of strong teachers in this school. I know Mrs. Garrick did a wonderful job with my two children when they were in the first grade, and she’s a wiz with technology to boot. That must by why she has so many parent requests each year. I guess she’s found her niche.”

Julie Garrick’s parent requests have been a point of controversy for some time at Hagerman Elementary School. Because of the requests—and the principal’s refusal to disregard them—each year Julie’s class has been loaded with children from the school’s only affluent neighborhood.

Naturally, her year-end literacy scores reflect the advantages those students enjoy, leading to more requests in subsequent years.

Mrs. Garrick’s students working in the computer lab.

See data on reading performance and socioeconomic status below:

Paula knows that talking to Mrs. Claridge about her idolatry of Julie Garrick is useless, but she can’t help herself. “You have to understand that not all children come to school, like yours did, having been read to a lot and taught their ABCs. You made their teachers’ jobs easier. Some kids come to school with no knowledge of print and letters at all. Those kids need extra help, and that’s why we’re starting Reading Champs.”

Mrs. Claridge ignores her comment as she slides her purse to the back of the counter. “Well, I’m here to help. Tell me what to do.”

Ruth attends her first Reading Champs training session.

It is early September on a Thursday afternoon. Ruth locks her car in front of Hagerman Elementary School, pulls her summer jacket over her ample waist, and hesitates before starting toward the school. She looks down at her sandaled feet and wills them to move across the blacktop.

A red Honda pulls up and parks beside her. Two women about her age get out, smiling. “Hi. Are you here for the Reading Champs meeting?” Thankful for the rescue, Ruth joins these women as they chat and make their way to the school library.

Artrice Harris is just beginning as they enter and find seats. “First, take a look at the materials in the tutoring boxes on each table. You’ll find books, word study activities, and other writing materials.”

As she reaches for the box, Ruth looks around, feeling self-conscious in her tiny chair, wondering if she was ever really that small. There are 15 other volunteers, a mixture of seniors, college students, and parents.

“When the children first come into the tutoring program, they will have already been assessed to see what they know about reading and spelling. We use this information to design our first lesson plans. As the year progresses, we’ll talk with you, reassess the students, and adjust the plans as needed. What we’re going to do now is show you a short presentation that will help you understand phonics and fluency instruction.

Click here to view the power point presentation on phonics and fluency.

Artrice Harris flipped on the lights. “Now that we’ve been reminded of just how hard it is to learn to read and write, let’s think about how we’ll help these students. Take a look at the sample lesson plans in your box.”

The group was split into pairs, and Artrice directed them to practice the lesson activities. Ruth found herself “teaching” George who was seated to her right. He warmed quickly to the idea of sorting picture/word cards despite his towering size and baritone voice. It seemed to Ruth that the training session ended too soon. She wound up having a wonderful time.

See the sample lesson plan below:

After three months, Ruth and second-grader Natalie have settled into a comfortable routine.

It is early November, and the tutoring program has been in full swing since the second week of the school year. At 10:55 A.M. Natalie is hurrying down the hall toward the Reading Champs’ room, dragging her pencil eraser along the tiled wall as she goes.

Natalie thinks that her tutoring sessions are hard work, but she loves them. She loves reading with her tutor, she loves writing and drawing, and she loves being able to pick out a book to take home. Most of all, Natalie loves Ruth Wimbash.

As the classroom door swings closed behind her, Natalie glances around and makes her way toward Ruth. “Hey, kiddo, how are you?” Ruth pats the seat next to her and Natalie scoots in beaming.

Natalie enjoys her tutoring sessions with Ruth Wimbash.

Ruth is growing more and more comfortable with her tutoring skills. She pulls out a baggie from the tutoring box and uses the picture and word cards to move through a word sort activities like an old pro.

See Natalie’s recent spelling assessment below:

See Natalie’s lesson plan below:

After the sorting, Ruth finishes this lesson by asking Natalie to write the sentence: “The truck sat in the grass.” Artrice stops by to watch her write and help her sound out “truck.”

Finally, they get to Natalie’s favorite part of the tutoring session. Ruth introduces a new book,—one that uses a lot of words starting with the “dr” and “tr” blends—The River Grows, by Gale Clifford. Before beginning the reading, Ruth takes care to jot down the title and the date on Natalie’s Reading Champs progress sheet.

See Natalie’s Reading Champs Progress Sheet below:

See Natalie’s DIBELS scores from mid-year second grade below:

See DIBELS expectations for mid-year second grade below:

“Natalie, this book is called The River Grows. Take a look at the book cover.” Ruth asks, “What do you think it means for a river to grow?”

“I dunno,” Natalie shrugs.

“Well. Let’s think about it. What are some things that grow?”

“Ummm, flowers, my puppy, ummmm ME!” Natalie gets excited.

Ruth and Natalie page through the book looking for new words beginning with the “dr” and “tr” sounds before reading together. When they’re finished reading, Ruth sends Natalie on her way. As she slips the baggy of books into the basket, she overhears George working with his student, Michael. Michael has been a challenge since day one, and Ruth feels lucky to have been assigned to Natalie. Unlike her, Michael shows little effort and is often argumentative.

“C’mon! Pay attention and sit up straight. Let me show you how to do it again.” Ruth cringes as she hears George’s voice boom over the quiet whispers and soft rustling of papers. She looks up as Artrice Harris approaches George and Michael.

See Michael’s recent spelling assessment below:

See Michael’s lesson plan below:

Michael’s teacher, Paula, prepares for his special education eligibility meeting.

In the months since Paula has known Michael, his off-task behavior has escalated, his reading has barely improved, she’s seen discipline problems in her class and in the Reading Champs program, and he’s been evaluated for special education services. Paula, takes one last swig of her diet Coke and gathers her notes for his eligibility meeting. Something needs to go right for Michael, and soon.
Paula is hoping that Michael will qualify for special education services and receive additional support.

Click here to see Michael’s notice of eligibility meeting.

See Michael’s special education eligibility assessment results below: