Although they struggled at the beginning of the year, third graders at Westside Elementary School receiving reading assistance from future educators at Valdosta State University proved that, in the end, they had acquired the knowledge and skills outlined in the state-adopted curriculum.
By the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, these students could understand words and phrases, their relationships, and their nuances; show a steadily growing ability to discern more from and make fuller use of text; consider a wider range of textual evidence; exhibit sensitivity to inconsistencies, ambigui- ties, and poor reasoning in texts; and more. Because of this, all of them met or exceeded standards on Georgiaâ€™s Criterion- Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in the content area of reading — a requirement for promotion to the fourth grade.
It was the partnership with VSU that helped the students achieve success.
Linda Taylor, the third-grade teacher who coordinates the partnership at Westside Elementary School, said, â€œIt truly makes a difference.â€
During the fall 2011 semester, university students in Dr. Gina Doepkerâ€™s LITR 4120: Literacy Assessment and Applica- tions course worked one-on-one with the students in Taylorâ€™s reading class. It was an opportunity for the future educators to focus on a struggling readerâ€™s particular skill set and vocabu- lary and develop a unique plan to help him or her becomeÂ a better reader. They used a balanced approach to reading instruction, focusing on vocabulary; fluency; writing, decoding, and comprehension strategies; and other skills.
The following spring semester, Doepker, a professor in VSUâ€™s Department of Early Childhood and Special Education and director of the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center, volunteered her own time every Tuesday and Thursday in an effort to help the students discover the fun side of reading. Her efforts led to the students being selected to represent the Peach State and interview an Olympic athlete through the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Centerâ€™s Kids Ask Questions Project. They later researched and wrote letters to their favorite Olympic athletes.
â€œBy working with these children,â€ Doepker said, â€œweâ€™re bringing up their confidence and giving them skills they can useâ€ inside the classroom in every subject, as well as outside the classroom. â€œItâ€™s effective. Their success on the CRCT is phenomenal and says that we are doing something right. The kids that we work with are purposely chosen because they are lower-level readers and struggling.â€
The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Centerâ€™s mission is to be an integrated system of care for the children and families of Valdosta and surrounding areas with a focus on building childrenâ€™s literacy skills, motivation, and confidence. The center serves children in grades first through fifth, but programs are being developed for middle school and high school students, as well as prekindergarten and kindergarten students, said Doepker.
The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center offers several programs designed to help children in the elementary grades build literacy skills, gain confidence, and be more motivated to want to read for both pleasure and study:
â€¢ Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP): This is a literacy tutor- ing program that involves VSU pre-service teachers assessing the community childrenâ€™s current literacy skills, developing specific literacy goals, providing one-on- one research-based literacy instruction and intervention, and monitoring the childrenâ€™s literacy development progress.
â€¢ Blazing Through Books Program: This feeder program for LEAP pairs VSU athletes and students with community children in one-on-one and small group literacy skill- building activities, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
â€¢ Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team (M-CAT): Through this program, any and all departments at VSU, as well as interested community organizations, provide identified services for the community children and families, such as comprehensive assessments, health screenings, family support and therapy, content area tutoring, shadowing opportunities, adult literacy, and much more.
â€¢ Dear Blazer Buddy: This is a pen pal program that pairs community children with VSU athletes and students. It is designed to get the children involved in a reading and writing activity that is fun and motivating.
â€¢ Blazer Books Television Series: This is a developing program that gives all VSU faculty, staff, and students, as well as area public schools, organizations and others the opportunity to read and/or recommend their favorite childhood book on camera. The third graders from Westside Elementary School filmed the first series on April 19, recommending books related to the summer Olympic sports they read about all semester.
VSU has had some sort of literacy out reach initiative since 1989.
According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, approximately 10 million children in the United States have difficulty reading. Of these children, 10 to 15 percent eventually drop out of high school and only 2 percent complete a four-year college degree.