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Children given helping hand with reading skills

Dale Thompson Of the record staff

Sounding out words can be tough but these kids have a helping hand.

On weekdays at 8 a.m. nearly three dozen children can be found in the cafeteria at Parley’s Park Elementary, but they aren’t there for breakfast. They are participants in the school’s Fluency Clinic, which is set up to help students become more proficient readers.

Clinic founder Sherie Gibson explains, "It’s an intervention for the kids that have been identified as needing to be more fluent in their reading."

The children are in grades 3rd-5th and meet with volunteers Monday through Friday from 7:50 a.m. to 8:20 a.m.

Volunteers sit down with students and help them go through a packet that includes three one-minute reading exercises. They focus on phonics, sight words and story reading.

Each exercise has a graph to help track the student’s progress, and volunteers offer encouragement as the children’s reading skills improve.

The program helps many children who have special needs. Nearly one-third of them are in special education programs. Two-thirds are ESL students and two people from the school staff who are fluent in Spanish help with the clinic.

The Fluency Clinic was created three years ago by Gibson and Margie Stafford. Stafford initially used the program in her special education classes. As it yielded positive results Gibson decided to try, "to offer it to more children."

Last year 54 children participated. Currently there are 38 students in the clinic and their numbers are increasing.

Approximately 20 children are on the waiting list, and the demand for volunteers has risen because for each person that volunteers, three students can be added to the program.

Billie Harsch is a local realtor and volunteers as often as she can. She takes pride in watching the children’s self-esteem improve.

"The school sent out an email to all the retailers asking if they would be interested in volunteering in the clinic. It seemed like a good way to give back," she said. "I’ve seen the students gain such a sense of self confidence, you see them blossom." Dawn Keil had a son in the program and now volunteers. "It helps them so much," she said.

Lupita Esquivel, a student in the program, said she’s learning, "how to say words and sentences. There are some words that are hard but you sound them out."

The students take quickly to the volunteers and often pick someone they like to work with. "The kids start to look for certain volunteers," Gibson said.

Not all volunteers have children that attend Parley’s Park Elementary. Some of them are middle school students who went through the program and many are professionals from airline pilots to city policemen.

When Harsch began volunteering she asked, "Is there a stigma attached to being here? But they love being in it. You can see a lot them fighting to improve."

Miguel Huerta, a student in the program, said, "When you pass the test they give you a star."


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