A School of Education’s youth reading program wrapped up its fourth year Dec. 7 with a shopping spree for books at Barnes & Noble.
A couple of years ago, Laurie Clark noticed that her son Zion had slowed in the development of his reading skills. He had always struggled with the written word, but Clark held to the hope that the child would eventually improve on his own.
Shortly after approaching Zion’s teachers and principal last fall with her observations, the school connected Clark with a struggling readers program hosted by Elon University. The program involves parents, children and future teachers in Elon’s School of Education meeting at May Memorial Library in Burlington, N.C., six times each semester where Elon students diagnose reading challenges and demonstrate to parents new techniques they can use at home to help children read during the week.
“I was speechless,” Clark said of seeing her son going from a “D” to an “A” for reading in his report card earlier this month. “It’s like a curse had been broken.”
For Zion, the accomplishment is no small feat either. “It feels good to get an A,” he says. “I never saw an A in reading before. I’m trying to get an A+ now.”
As a reward for his efforts, Zion and 49 other children who participated in the program were treated to a $60 shopping spree at Barnes & Nobles in Alamance Crossings Wednesday evening. Students from the School of Education and volunteers were also on hand to help the children pick books at no cost to families.
Associate Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr started the “It Takes a Village” program in 2008 as part of her teaching struggling readers class. The Switzerland-based Oak Foundation took note of the initial success and awarded Rattigan-Rohr a $200,000 grant to replicate the reading program through partnerships with universities in North Carolina and Oregon.
Locally, word about the program’s success has spread so much that she had to turn down dozens of prospective participants this semester. “It was heart breaking to do that but we really didn’t have the space,” she says.
With the increase in numbers, past students and other volunteers have signed up as tutors. Laurie Lambert, wife of Elon University President Leo M. Lambert, is one of those volunteers, working this fall with Zion and his mother.
“It’s been a most pleasant experience,” Lambert said as she looked over at the books Zion had picked. “We both have progressed in the program. We’ve discovered that we can all benefit from it.”
That’s one of the key aspects of the program, says Madelyn Pastrana, a third grade teacher in Greensboro and former student of Rattigan-Rohr’s who continues working with the program.
“It’s a community event,” she says. “It takes the parents, it takes the tutor and it takes the child to make it all work. Everyone benefits from it.”
She says that as a teacher, the program has helped her to integrate parents in the teaching process, an important tool to reinforce learning. It’s also a source of innovative ideas.
Several children who participated in this year’s program are Hispanic whose parents speak limited or no English. Rattigan-Rohr said that while many of her students spoke Spanish, they also had translators at hand to help in certain situations.
Ary Londoño and wife Alba Maya were thankful for that. Their two daughters, Michelle, 8, and Liseth, 13, have been in the program since the beginning of the school year.
“They have both progressed so much,” Londoño says in Spanish, adding that the program has been particularly beneficial for Liseth, who struggled with learning English after coming to the United States from Colombia.
Liseth admits that at first she didn’t like reading because she didn’t know the spelling of many of the words. Now she enjoys it and plans to continue coming to the program in the future.
“We’re very thankful to Dr. Rattigan-Rohr and the teachers,” says Maya. “It’s an excellent program. They have dedicated a lot of time to help us.”
Rattigan-Rohr describes her program as a “clinic without borders” that succeeds in most part thanks to the “amazing good will” of her students and the volunteers who keep coming year after year. She says parents have asked for more meeting times and more subjects in addition to reading, adding that she is looking at ways to give the program more permanency.
“It’s grown so much, we need to think about what the next step will be,” she says.
By Keren Rivas