Students can become reading ‘STARs’ |

Students can become reading ‘STARs’

Alexandria Gonzalez, The Park Record

For some students, being called on to read in class can be scary. That is why KSL, Utah Americorps and the Utah State Office of Education have come together to sponsor the STAR program, a reading initiative at several schools in Summit County.

Amber Siddoway, the Utah Americorps STAR program coordinator at McPolin Elementary School, said the program offers students a "safe place to read without fear of judgment or failure."

STAR, which stands for Student Tutoring Achievement for Reading, "is designed to be used in one-on-one tutoring with adult volunteers or paraprofessionals as reading practice, not intervention."

Volunteers can participate in the program at McPolin Elementary School, Trailside Elementary School and South Summit Middle School. Siddoway said volunteers are needed at McPolin, because there are only three volunteers and at least 30 more students at need.

To volunteer, the process is the same at both the elementary and middle school levels. Volunteers do not need to have a background in education, Siddoway said. All they need is the ability to commit to half-an-hour two days a week for an entire school year.

A typical session, she said, includes volunteers meeting one-on-one with students to read a book, going through a guided lesson plan and picking out a new book for the next session. At the beginning of each session, they review the book they covered during the last session.

April Kunz, Utah Americorps member and STAR program coordinator at South Summit Middle School, said volunteers are needed there as well.

"We will never turn somebody away," Kunz said. "We will assign them to one or two students for the whole school year, so we just need someone that will commit."

While most of the students in McPolin’s STAR program are primarily Spanish-speaking, Siddoway said the materials are all in English. Volunteers do not need to be fluent in Spanish.

She said in the short couple of months since school began, one volunteer has developed a close relationship with her student.

"Mary Ellen Geist is a radio host for KSL, one of the sponsoring companies, and she has been meeting with a fifth-grader," Siddoway said. "Her student loves to listen to her on the radio and is so excited to see her twice a week."

She said the program was developed by the Office of Education and works with the CORE curriculum being taught in the classroom, and the students in the program are not failing or in special education. They are just below level, so she said the goal of the program is to get them caught up with their peers by the end of the school year.

At McPolin, she said, the population is 33 percent Latino, so it helps them to have one-on-one tutoring to overcome the language barrier. Siddoway said the program even gives the parents tips on how to help their children at home.

The STAR program is also in place at Trailside Elementary School under the guidance of Utah Americorps member and program coordinator Kelly Miko. The program at Trailside follows the same guidelines as the program at McPolin.

Miko said the only difference between McPolin and Trailside is that Trailside’s STAR program only runs during the day. They do not offer it during their after-school program.

The STAR program has been at Trailside for three years now, and Miko said students have shown progress in different ways.

"We can see progress marked with testing scores, but we also see a lot of progress in terms of confidence, which you can’t really measure with tests," Miko said. "We’ve seen introverted students who were afraid to speak out now participating in class discussions."

The goal, she said, is to get them excited about reading and learning, and they have shown that by asking if they can be in the STAR reading program again the next year.

April Kunz, STAR program coordinator at South Summit Middle School, said their program is different. She said it is called STAR Advanced Program, and they work with students that already know how to read but haven’t made reading a priority.

"At the middle-school level, we work on comprehension and fluency," Kunz said. "They are called ‘strategic readers,’ and they are at risk of falling below or are already just below grade level."

An assessment of each student is made, she said, using the formal testing of the state and the school: DIBELS scores and CRT fluency scores. They perform informal testing as well.

Kunz said that is the key to students succeeding in the program. The STAR Advanced Program has only been in place for about a month at the middle school and already some of the participating students have gone up two levels in reading.

"The parent program of the STAR program is the Americorps’ ‘Read, Graduate, Succeed,’" Kunz said. "The whole plan is if we help them with reading, we can help them graduate and succeed post-graduation, so that is what we are trying to do."

For more information about the program or how to volunteer, visit KSL’s "Read Today" website at, the Utah Americorps website at or the Utah State Office of Education STAR Program website at

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