Valdosta Daily Times

September 14, 2012

VSU partnership helps students achieve reading success

Dean Poling
Valdosta State University

VALDOSTA — VALDOSTA -- 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, ambiguities, and poor reasoning in texts; and more. Because of this, all of them met or exceeded standards on Georgia’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, “It truly makes a difference.”



During the fall 2011 semester, university students in Dr. Gina Doepker’s LITR 4120: Literacy Assessment and Applications course worked one-on-one with the students in Taylor’s reading class. It was an opportunity for the future educators to focus on a struggling  reader’s particular skill set and vocabulary and develop a unique plan to help him or her become 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 VSU’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 Center’s Kids Ask Questions Project. They later researched and wrote letters  to their favorite Olympic athletes.



“By working with these children,” Doepker said, “we’re bringing up their confidence and giving them skills they can use” inside the classroom in every subject, as well as outside the classroom. “It’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.”



The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center’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 children’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:



• Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP): This is a literacy tutoring program that involves VSU pre-service teachers assessing the community children’s current literacy skills, developing specific literacy goals, providing one-on-one research-based literacy  instruction and intervention, and monitoring the children’s literacy development progress.



• 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.



• 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.



• 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.



• 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 outreach 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 two percent  complete a four-year college degree.



Contact Dr. Gina Doepker at (229) 333-5625 or gmdoepker@valdosta.edu for more information.