Professor offers lessons from ‘Village Project’ in new book

Associate Professor Jean Rohr shares findings from an education class that pairs Elon students with struggling readers in elementary school.


The modest program in Elon University’s School of Education started in 2007 with a handful of children visiting campus each week for help learning to read from college students studying to be teachers.

Elon students enrolled in Associate Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr’s “Teaching Struggling Readers” course would work one-on-one with the children to evaluate, diagnose, and craft reading activities for young tutees to do at home under the supervision of parents.

The initiative grew. Reading scores improved. Word circulated in the community about the Elon class, and before she knew it, Rohr found herself putting together a wait-list each semester from mothers and fathers hoping to secure a spot for their children in the program, which Rohr dubbed the “Village Project.”

In Rohr’s new book out this summer, It Takes a Village: A Collaborative Assault on the Struggling Readers Dilemma, she shares with future teachers, parents and current educators several of the promising approaches that students discovered to helping children read when classroom instruction hasn’t been enough.

“Parents will try anything to go that extra mile to find programs that help their children,” Rohr said. “Thinking about where the ‘Village’ has been, where it is now, and where it might go in the future gave me a focus for writing this book.”

Citing past studies, Rohr builds a case in the book’s opening chapters for why collaborative approaches to education are needed in the 21st century. By “collaborative” she means children, parents, teachers, nonprofits, libraries, and even businesses, all of which fall under her “Village” rubric.

Published by Sense Publishers, the book is a supplement to classroom teaching and not an alternative, she said. Many children learn to read from traditional classroom methods. For the parents and teachers of those who stumble, the book can be a resource.

Rohr started her program in 2007 as part of an existing upper-level literacy class required of future teachers. Though children initially traveled to the university for weekly tutoring, Elon students today visit the May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington to meet with their tutees.

Using the library as a meeting location offers several advantages: It’s centrally located, it possesses resources available for children and parents to borrow on their own, and it exposes the tutees to materials they may not have otherwise known were available.

The class concludes each semester with a reception at a nearby Barnes & Noble, where the college students help the children select between $65 and $100 worth of books to take home at no cost to the families. It provides teacher candidates a chance to test theories taught in their own classrooms, and it gives them time to work with parents, including some who don’t speak English.

The Switzerland-based Oak Foundation took note of the initial success and awarded Rohr a $200,000 grant last year to replicate the reading program through partnerships with UNC Greensboro and Concordia University in Portland, Ore. Rohr’s book was published with assistance from the grant.

Rohr joined the Elon University faculty in 2007 after spending two years as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, from where she had earned her doctorate. Rohr’s passion for education stems from her own family. When she moved to North Carolina in the early 1990s because of her husband’s career, she noticed that her son was struggling in some of his middle school classes.

Rohr soon enrolled at UNCG to earn a bachelor’s degree in speech language pathology and audiology and a master’s degree in education. She took a job with Guilford County Schools before pursuing her Ph.D., and today focuses her classroom instruction and research on preparing future teachers to understand the “pedagogy of poverty” and working with children of diverse backgrounds.

She has published research on the “Village Project” in Dyslexia Review: The Journal of the Dyslexia Guild and Educational Studies, and she has presented her findings at conferences such as the American Educational Research Association. This summer she travels to the University of London to discuss her work in the “Village Project.”