Pupils finding 1-on-1 help in Reading Zone

Tutoring: An after-school program gives struggling readers the individual help they need.

January 14, 2001|By Tom Gutting | By Tom Gutting,SUN STAFF

Chauntrice Walker's eyes lighted up and a smile swept across her face as tutor Zabrina Harris laid out stacks of books in front of her. For the second-grader at Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School in Southwest Baltimore, staying after school for one-on-one reading tutoring is the highlight of her day.

The program, known as the Reading Zone, was made possible by a $250,000 U.S. Department of Education grant for area schools secured by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat.

Ten schools, including Barrister, received $25,000 each to start individual, after-school reading instruction. The Barrister program and five others in Baltimore and Baltimore County are coordinated by Baltimore Reads, a Baltimore-based child and adult literacy program.

"The program works," said Chauntrice's mother, Kuntasha Nelson, whose daughter is one of 20 Barrister pupils in the Reading Zone. "My girl failed last year. Now she picks up a book at home."

Harris, who coordinates the volunteers and the program at Barrister, said that the Reading Zone is tailored to each child. For example, Chauntrice's program concentrates on comprehension.

"She's so much more focused [here]" than in the classroom, Harris said. But that has been typical of all the pupils involved. "I was really concerned [at the start]," she said. "But we have not had one child ... who tries to sneak out."

Each pupil also is given two books to read when they can't make it to tutoring, and parents fill out a sheet to record just about everything the child reads at home, from books to newspaper articles to the backs of cereal boxes.

Baltimore Reads also organizes the Reading Edge, the school's extensive after-school program. It includes activities designed to bring pupils into the culture of reading and to encourage them to read outside the classroom.

Rob Clark, director of the Reading Edge, said that the Reading Zone is a much more effective way of doing one-on-one tutoring. In the past, volunteers at the school would do "pull out" interventions for pupils who were struggling with reading.

"You're taking them out of the classroom" and that isn't good, Clark said. The Reading Zone "is designed to fit existing after-school programs." And he said the program is good for the community in general. "Children that learn to read and families that learn to read become better citizens."

The program began last fall, and Baltimore Reads helped to train the federally funded AmeriCorps service program for the first month. Volunteers from local colleges also have helped out. Tutoring started in the middle of October and will continue every day after school.

Harris said she has seen improvement in the two months the Reading Zone has been operating. "They're definitely doing better," she said of the children, but added that it would probably be February before any major progress is made.

Principal Billie Rinaldi loves the Reading Zone because it fits in well with the school's "extended day" after-school program and also with the school's new Direct Instruction curriculum, a highly structured, phonics-laden method of reading instruction.

The Reading Zone and all of Barrister's after-school activities avoid a structured classroom atmosphere, Rinaldi said. Instead, she wants them to enrich the intensive learning of the school day.

"Direct Instruction is a powerful tool," she said. "Our extended day program gives us an opportunity to enhance the reading program."

In addition, tutors become mentors for the children.

"As we've recruited our young people," Rinaldi said, "we tell them about the mentoring role. It gives the child an anchor person." That kind of mentor relationship is "very good at encouraging self-esteem, grades will raise. There are all kinds of benefits."

For more information about the Reading Zone and other after-school programs at Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School, contact the school at 410-396-5973.

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