Aug. 23, 2011
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Christine Walsh, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood, spent a lot of her summer at the B.F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa, but she wasn’t reading. Walsh, and five SRU graduate students, worked with 11 children from the Aliquippa School District to help them improve their literacy and writing skills.
Walsh lent a hand to the library and the school district in delivering a summer reading tutoring program when the district had to cancel its planned summer reading program due to budget cuts. The “Plan B” program included devising games and other programs to help young children continue to improve their reading skills.
The Walsh-led program included five certified teachers who are working on their master’s degree who acted as reading tutors. Students for the program were recruited by Patricia Kardambikis and Lisa Dutkovich, both district administrators, who alerted parents and urged participation.
“The program started because SRU’s College of Education had partnered with the Aliquippa district as part of the Professional Development School Network,” Walsh said. “We had been looking at ways we could assist them in meeting the needs of their students and had agreed to participate in their reading practicum during the summer as part of the school’s regular summer reading program. When the funding fell through, we had to come up with another way to deliver the service, so we partnered with the library and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, which was already planning to offer free hot lunches to children up to age 18 at the library.”
“We brainstormed and agreed to piggyback on the lunch program to offer the tutoring. We knew it was really important to offer the reading program, especially in the face of funding cuts to education,” she said.
“The program went very, very well. With 11 students and five graduate students who are at the end of their graduate studies, there was an abundance of quality one-on-one time during the 90-minute, Monday-Wednesday-Friday program. In fact, the program went so well, if funding is not restored next year, all of the partners have agreed to stage a similar program,” she said.
This program gave our students, who came from New Castle, Greenville, Kittanning and McKeesport, a chance to be involved in a capstone project that gave them the opportunity to implement in practice, the theory and research they have been studying,” Walsh said.
Each teacher worked with two students on several literacy activities that addressed their specific reading and writing needs. The teachers did assessments to help determine the strengths and needs of each child. The district targeted children that would benefit from the extra support, Walsh said.
“Parents visited weekly with the teachers, and we were able to increase family involvement. We know that the learning did not end at the end of the tutoring program. Each participant left with books and writing materials. Parents were shown games they could use at home. The teachers conducted demonstrations on how family members could expand the literacy learning at home,” Walsh said. “We know if we can teach parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and get them involved, we can expand the learning that takes place outside of school as well.”
The children gathered at the library, which his directed by Linda Helms, and were joined by “Brandy,” a dog, who was often the recipient of the children’s reading aloud sessions.
“Parents and their willing participation to make sure their students were able to get to the library were truly keys to the program’s success,” Walsh said. “We know how hard it is for parents to re-arrange their schedules to make sure their son’s and daughter’s could participate three days a week,” Walsh told the Beaver County Times in story about the project.
Participating students told the newspaper they enjoyed the reading games and cited their favorites, including “Letter Hop,” where players supply words related to a letter in the alphabet they land on – and the reading to the dog. They also cited specific books they enjoyed.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives. -