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June 3, 2016

Challenging children to read

Originally published by The 918

By: Carol Sokolsky

Shortly after my move to Tulsa, my sister — a second grade teacher at Eugene Field Elementary in West Tulsa — asked if I would consider getting involved in the lives of precious children who struggle to read … some way below current grade level. On a few visits to Tulsa prior to my move, I sat in her classroom for a few days and just watched her do her magic with her precious children. And when I say magic, I’m understating what she does every day. She has a crazy number of kids in her class, and many lives with special circumstances that most of us could never imagine. Eugene Field is a school that exists in the midst of a poverty-ridden community.

As I watched my sister, Mrs. Newman, teach those precious littles, it was obvious that she loves each one, holds them accountable to listen and behave, and then orchestrates learning processes that just rocked my world. I realized that I’m not smarter than a second grader! I sat in awe as she made teaching look so easy, and yet I know how hard she works and the many, many hours she spends every week, both in school and at home.

Eugene Field faces some unique challenges that many Tulsa Public Schools do not encounter, as it is nestled in the middle of a poverty-ridden community. Each student receives breakfast at 7:30 am, since many would come to school without being fed. Attendance is a daily problem; children can’t learn if they aren’t there …

Because of the emotional issues that poverty brings, many of the students lag behind in reading, one of the key measurements in state testing, and so critical for their entire life. Several years ago, Reading Partners became part of Eugene Field’s effort to bring up reading scores, and has proven to do just that.

So, let me introduce you to Reading Partners, and then we will continue this story. Reading Partners aligns with under-resourced schools and engage volunteer reading partners to work — in 45 minute sessions — one-on-one with students who struggle with reading. The 45-minute session is a structured, research-based curriculum that has proven that students make significant gains in reading. On the average, Reading Partners’ students more than double their rate of learning while in the program. Truly, Reading Partners mobilizes communities to provide students with the proven, individualized reading support they need to read at grade level by the fourth grade.

Students reading below grade level in third grade are four times as likely as their peers to drop out of school before earning their diploma. In 2013-2014, nearly 9 in 10 Reading Partners students (88 percent) accelerate their rate of learning in reading. I think about the first through third grades at Eugene Field that are in Reading Partners and pray that their little lives will be impacted and changed because they become stronger readers. And the precious faces of the children that engage with a volunteer twice a week…well, it’s truly priceless to watch as they earn a star, or get a prize because they hit a threshold or completed their work so well! Reading Partners truly makes reading fun!

Sixteen months ago, I started by volunteering two days a week, just one session each day. I’ve now spend more hours every week with several more students, grades one to three, and I’ve just fallen in love with each one! What a privilege to work with so many precious children, most so eager to do well; some, a little less eager but always smiling. Some days, as I witness a breakthrough — an “aha” moment — I’m so encouraged as the child grasps something that we’ve been trying so hard to understand. Oh, my heart!

Reading Partners at Eugene Field has over 120 tutors that donate their time every week, some on multiple days and some that spend most of one day at school. Before I began, I wondered if I was qualified, or how I would prepare each day. The beauty of Reading Partners is this…each student is tested to identify the baseline level of his or her ability to read. Lessons are in three segments: Emerging, Beginning and Comprehension Readers. Each segment focuses on the skills needed to push the students to a higher reading level. The emerging reader’s day includes tutor read aloud, alphabet, phonological awareness and student read aloud. At the end of the session, the tutor records the high points and challenges and next steps in the tutor notes.

Students are tested at regular intervals and the results continue to rise each year. Reading Partners — each volunteer — we are all making a difference in the lives of children at Eugene Field Elementary School! Unlocking student potential … One student at a time … Please consider becoming a Reading Partner at Eugene Field school. The benefits to these precious children will be realized for a lifetime. And there is nothing better than becoming a positive role model in the lives of these otherwise often forgotten kids. And I challenge you not to fall in love! Reading Partners is looking for volunteers during summer session, and for next school year. If you have time in your day and in your heart, please go to: https://www.readingpartners.org or contact the918.

And one more thing I would ask you to do, please … Just love on a teacher. Donate a gift card to your favorite teacher. They pay for everything they use in their class; they aren’t on an expense account. Teachers do what they do because they have a passion and they love to teach. They are not in it for a cushy retirement. Remember their dedication and shower them with green love!

My eyes and heart have been opened wide to Eugene Field. I love the teachers, the principal, the staff and especially the kids. Oh, and I have no identity at school. I am simply known as “Mrs. Newman’s sister,” and I’m just fine with that … It’s an honor, trust me!

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