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February 19, 2015

Spencer's Story

Undaunted and enthusiastic

Nestled in the urban neighborhood of East Oakland’s Brookfield, bright orange Brookfield Elementary School is abuzz with the energy of the new school year.

Spencer Attick, Reading Partners site coordinator at Brookfield Village Elementary, is preparing to launch the school’s reading center for its fourth year running. Spencer has already scheduled at least three sessions for the first day of tutoring. Students will meet in their reading partners and get to know each other. They’ll also color name tags and start reading together. In preparation for the site’s launch, Spencer has been hard at work gathering teacher referrals, conducting assessments to place students at their proper curriculum levels, and setting up the reading center. Spencer pays particular attention to creating a warm and welcoming environment where students can fall in love with reading. The reading center is whimsically decorated with book-inspired posters, bright floor cushions, and the ever-lingering traces of past glitter crafts.

As Spencer walks through Brookfield’s halls wearing her Reading Partners name tag, students eagerly approach her.

“Sign me up for Reading Partners! I want to go to Reading Partners!” they chatter excitedly.

Although Brookfield is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s highest-need reading centers, and a site where it has been historically difficult to recruit volunteers, Spencer is undaunted and enthusiastic. Part of her conviction comes from her passion for early literacy intervention.

“I think literacy is one of the most important issues for just about any community because it’s the basis of where you start anything in life. You need to know how to read to get any type of job, to even read the news, or to make yourself an educated person,” Spencer said. “I think it’s the backbone of what it means to be a person. To be able to read and participate in society is one of the most important things, which is why I’ve always been so passionate about it.”

While in college at Towson University in Baltimore, where she studied English, secondary education, and American Sign Language, Spencer worked as a student teacher in English for middle and high school students. In her experience, she often felt that many of her efforts were coming too late. The cumulative effects of poor literacy skills had created an overwhelming barrier to learning, causing many of her students to feel disillusioned and disengaged in a range of subjects.

“If you’re trying to study science, and can’t read the science textbook, that’s a problem. The same goes for math. There are word problems in math; there are concepts you need to understand that are written out for you. And if you were never supported in literacy as a young student in the ways that you needed, it really hinders you in every aspect of your life. Literacy is a fundamental part of our society,” Spencer explained.

Spencer’s commitment to service runs as deep as her passion for education. Last year, after a two-and-a-half month stint on a Bike and Build cross-country service trip, Spencer moved to the Bay Area, where she sought out ways to become involved with local schools. She quickly found Reading Partners and became a tutor at Sankofa Academy in Oakland.

After seeing the impact that her reading sessions had on her student, whom Spencer refers to as “the most adorable little human being ever,” she became inspired by the Reading Partners program model. When she learned that Reading Partners was recruiting site coordinators for the upcoming school year, she applied immediately. Now, after completing her training and establishing her reading center, she is more convinced than ever that the position is a perfect fit for her.

At the back of her reading center, Spencer has assembled a box labeled “Ms. Spencer’s Favorites,” containing books such as A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and her favorite, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Reading Partners can’t wait to see what Ms. Spencer accomplishes with her passion for literacy and service.

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