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Elon tutoring program ends with book-buying bonanza

With their Elon University tutors in tow, 22 children made beelines Wednesday evening for such titles as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Just Grace and the Snack Attack,” books at a local retailer that would, hopefully, foster a deeper love of the written word while rewarding their progress in a reading program organized by an upper level education course.

Future educators enrolled in the Teaching Struggling Readers class at Elon partnered this fall with elementary school children as part of their curriculum, traveling once a week to the May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington to help them improve their reading skills.

Destiny Evans, a fifth grader at Harvey Newlin Elementary School in Burlington, worked with Katie Bosch, a senior elementary education major, in the tutoring program hosted this fall by an upper level education course.

The semester-long class concluded with a Dec. 9 reception at Barnes & Noble in Alamance Crossing, where the college students helped their younger charges select up to $50 of books to take home at no cost to the families.

“I see a big difference in his learning,” said Allen Love, whose first grade son, Jamari, took part in the tutoring. “He reads a lot better. His attention span is a lot better. His teachers say his focus and learning habits have changed a lot. … And he lets us know when it’s Wednesday and it’s time to go to the tutoring class.”

Jean Rattigan-Rohr, an assistant professor of education, taught the course, which received funding from a Community Partner Initiative grant through Elon’s Kernodle Center for Service Learning. Grants support collaborative partnerships between the university and local community nonprofits.

Rohr is quick to explain the benefits not only to the children, most of whom live in Alamance County with a small number driving over from Guilford County, but also to the future teachers in her class.

“Research shows that, with respect to preparing teacher candidates, they don’t often get an opportunity to work with parents in their programs,” Rohr said. “When they do, it’s usually sort of perfunctory. They get an opportunity to sit in maybe one parent conference, if that, during an internship.”

Senior elementary education major Amelia Martin tutored Zachary Andrews this fall, and on Dec. 9, the duo spent half an hour selecting books at Barnes & Noble in Alamance Crossing.

Now in its second year, Teaching Struggling Readers helps young children improve their reading abilities. It provides Elon students a chance to test theories taught in their own classrooms, and it gives them time to work with parents directly, an experience not always possible before taking a first job in the classroom.

“This experience let us focus on one individual student,” said Rachel Youssef, a senior elementary education major. “As teachers, we’re going to be busy with classes with 20 odd students, but to have that student to focus on, to know what he or she needs help with, it’s good practice now to know that even with a class we need to look at each student.”

Anecdotes aren’t the only measure of the program’s success. For the first time, Elon students met the children they tutored at the May Memorial Library. Last year the elementary school students visited campus for the program, and the switch in venues has had the desired effect.

“We did notice that several parents came together, the mother and father of the child, or a mother and a grandmother,” Rohr said. “We noticed that one parent would be sitting with one of our Elon students and the student being tutored, while another parent would be seated on the floor, reading to another child. That was an interesting byproduct of what was happening.”

The head of the Alamance County Public Libraries said the system is tracking the number of new library cards requested by families taking part in the project, as well as how many books are being borrowed from the various branches. “Habits have been encouraged by them coming here,” said library director Judy Cobb. “Reading is key to everything, and it’s nice for students to come here and see other people in the community using the library.”

Jamari Love spent time with Elon senior Debbie Silverstein (left) and Drew Yee '09 (right), now a teacher in Alamance County, during the fall semester's tutoring program. Yee took the same reading education course in 2008 prior to her graduation.

David Cooper, dean of the School of Education at Elon, and Gerry Duffy, the William E. Moran Distinguished Professor in Literacy at UNC Greensboro and author of a book Rohr’s students used in class to devise reading strategies, attended the Barnes & Noble reception. School principals and even a few teachers, recent Elon alumni who tutored children as seniors in 2008, visited the bookstore as well.

“I love the dynamic of being able to work with parents and not just students … so many of whom come from backgrounds where reading barely exists,” said Kara Cowdrick, a senior elementary education major. “My goal is to instill a love of reading with this program.

“It’s a slow process, but it’s all about the small gains.”

Eric Townsend,
12/10/2009 4:51 PM