Learning to read doesn’t come easy for all children. Some students need more time to develop reading skills. Others benefit from personalized, one-on-one attention or just need extra encouragement and support to motivate them to pick up a book.
That’s why Lisa Potter, a reading intervention teacher, started a tutoring program several years ago to bring struggling readers together with junior high mentors. Her goal was to give her elementary students more time to practice reading skills outside of the normal classroom environment. What she got, however, was more than she bargained for.
“We’re really building something beyond straight academics,” Potter said. “I can’t quite put it into words, but you can feel it. They’re connecting with the junior high students and it’s making a difference. One dad told me his child is reading every night, something the child never did before, because he wanted to impress his tutor.”
About 20 National Junior Honor Society members from Stillwater Junior High walk over to Oak Park Elementary school each week to tutor an elementary student. The junior high students were specially trained to help the younger kids practice their reading skills. They spend about a half hour sitting together to the school’s media center. The younger children are all smiles when they walk into the room and pick up a book. The junior high students offer encouragement, help sound out words when necessary, and give high fives and smiles when their mentees succeed.
“I think we just take reading for granted,” said Rachel Schulz, a ninth grader, who said she doesn’t even remember learning to read. “[My mentee] is usually pretty excited to see me and gives me a hug. I like helping other people and I like reading, so it’s great.”
While the younger students have the opportunity to practice their skills and grow more confident in reading, the tutors also develop important leadership and coaching skills. They also get a taste of what it is like to be a teacher, and can hone skills like patience and persistence.
“It’s really hard,” said Olivia Olson, ninth grade, who admitted teachers have a very difficult job. “But they’re improving a lot. They’re interacting more and as they grow with reading they’re showing a lot more confidence. I love volunteering. It’s really fun to do.”