Observations from the classroom

June 05, 1998

Last fall, The Sun embarked on a five-year literacy project designed to boost the reading proficiency of young children. A key part of this effort has been the 130 Sun employees who have volunteered as reading tutors in area public schools.

The project, Reading by 9, was started in part as a response to the dismal performance of students on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests - less than one-third of third-graders in metropolitan Baltimore achieved a "satisfactory" or better reading score on the statewide exam.

Sun employees went into classrooms not as reading experts but as adults eager to help children. In return, many of the tutors have been buoyed by the common experience of volunteers: Extending a hand helps the giver as well as the recipient.

As the school year draws to a close, here's a progress report from a sampling of the employees who have volunteered.

Working with the children made me slow down. I actually read more slowly now, taking time to absorb what I read. Our goal was to help the children with their reading skills, but I've benefited, too.

-- Ruth Hakulin, secretary

The first week, reading around the table was, in some cases, labored. I found the open classroom distracting. But, over the months, the six students in my reading club have made remarkable progress. It has been extremely rewarding to watch them conquer their fears and reservations. Each week, I ask them, "Who's the best reading club at Federal Hill?" They respond: "We are!" I believe they are. To Anthony, Daniel, India, Justin, Lydia and Walter - thank you.

-- Lisa LoVullo, director, Electronic News and Information Services

It was easy to bond with Chris. He enjoys the attention of working one-on-one with an adult. He likes to read and has improved in recent weeks partly by re-reading the same books. His main problem is staying on task because he is easily distracted. No doubt he benefits from my role as drill sergeant. I allow him brief breaks and then help him return to the job at hand.

-- Nancy Hauswald, educational services manager

When the reading group began, some of the children were very self-conscious about reading aloud because they were poor readers. But after the first few sessions, there was an incredible difference in their confidence. Suddenly, they were eager to read.

-- Kelly Swift, creative manager

The level of cooperation I received in the reading group often depended upon the children's mood. So, to gauge their attitudes at the start of each tutoring session, I would ask them to show me how they felt on a scale of 1 to 10 using their fingers. At first, few of the children responded. But, gradually, more responded. By the fourth week, 60 fingers were in the air, with jubilant smiles all around. I was floating the rest of the day.

-- Amy Davis, photographer

I like to think of myself more as a book buddy than a tutor.

When I meet with my four friends at McCormick Elementary School in Baltimore County, we first talk about books and stories. Then, we read - as much as we can in the 15 or 20 minutes allotted for each child.

It's altogether enjoyable, at least for this big buddy. The little buddies are noncommittal, though they always seem eager to see me, ready to read and discriminating in the books they choose.

What they'll take away from these encounters, or if they'll even remember them, is one of the great mysteries that teachers - and parents - face every day. More than the long "o" or the silent "e" we've talked about, I hope they'll take away at least a liking for books and words, and the fact that they, too, can be your buddies.

-- Mary Maushard, reporter

I began tutoring a half-dozen students at Carter G. Woodson Elementary in January. That was too many students for a quality tutoring session, a sentiment that might amuse a teacher in a class of 20 or more. I questioned the necessity of the effort, but enjoyed getting out to visit the school anyway.

Opening Day, however, brought a revelation. A colleague, also a tutor at Woodson, asked me if I could work with his students that day because he had to photograph the ballgame.

I introduced myself to his students, two timid but very cooperative boys. I told them we would take turns reading aloud. The boys struggled. One had trouble sounding out even single-syllable words.

By the time we finished a sentence, it was hard to recall how it had begun. For these boys, a story was a minefield of letters that kept changing sounds.

Both pupils persevered mightily, as unpleasant and embarrassing as it must be for beginning readers to reveal their lack of skill. Beyond the window, the ballpark lights shimmered across South Baltimore, but I don't imagine that there was any more determination on the field at Camden Yards that day than was in that classroom.

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