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School board supports reading programs

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, Park City’s school board voted to continue supporting the K-3 Reading Improvement Program, a bill enacted by the Utah Legislature in 2004 in which the state provides matching funds to help districts achieve Utah’s goal of having third-graders read at or above reading level.

With those funds, Park City School District has placed reading specialists and developed reading centers in every elementary school, and implemented a tiered approach to providing students instruction and intervention.

At Parley’s Park Elementary School, different levels of help are provided to students. "If kids are really struggling, they’re placed in the reading center," said Katherine Martz, outreach coordinator for Parley’s Park’s reading programs. She said the next step for students is STAR (Student Tutoring Achievement for Reading), which provides research-based tutoring in 30-minute lessons that can be used by professionals, parents or volunteers.

Parley’s Park’s reading center offers small group instruction with teachers, "it’s our intervention for students who need help, but it is still a supplement to classroom instruction," Martz said. "STAR is used as a bridge for those students who were in the reading center."

The final level of support is the school’s fluency clinic, which happens before school from 7:50 to 8:20 a.m. "The clinic is daily practice for kids," Martz said. "It’s a program where kids keep progressing."

STAR and the clinic are run with the help of volunteers. "The number of students we can serve is dependent upon the number of volunteers we have," Martz said. For STAR, she said they are only able to take five kids into the program because of the shortage of volunteers.

STAR volunteers must commit to coming in twice a week for a half an hour during regular school hours (8:20 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.). Matching up a volunteer with a student can be somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, said Martz, because you have to coordinate the student’s schedule and the volunteers.

"It’s nice when volunteers say they can come in whenever it works best for the students," Sherie Gibson, reading specialist at the elementary school, said. While this year’s volunteers are very experienced, Gibson said that Martz tailors all volunteers’ training to their background and experience.

STAR volunteer Mary Heddens said she has always been an avid reader, and "I like to pass that on to others." She spoke of the need for more volunteers as well. "I really urge people to do it. It’s a small amount of time requirement for such big rewards, and then we can have more students," she said.

Her student, second-grader Marquel Solipa, sets everything up in the morning for the two of them and then waits at the door for Hedden to arrive. "He’s a very eager reader," Hedden said. Solipa’s favorite book is "About the Seasons," and he said he likes to read the teacher’s part and the student part.

"It turns out to be a win-win for the students and the tutors," Martz said. "Students become better readers, and the tutors get a neat relationship and get to witness the student’s growth."

Volunteer Brenda Lake works with two students twice a week tutoring for the STAR program. "I feel like I’m helping somebody get ahead and become a better reader," she said. "I get to spend a whole year together with a student and watch them progress, and I feel like I am contributing to our town."

Many other volunteers are contributing their time in the fluency clinic. This year, Gibson and Martz decided that every student who had passed the fluency clinic and was in fifth-grade could become a volunteer.

"We have students who were English Language Learners that are now tutors," Martz said. "It’s really inspiring for kids who are in the clinic to strive to become volunteers."

Fifth-grader, Sharon Zhu, is one of those volunteers. He said he got nominated to volunteer and he comes almost every day. For him, the clinic is important because, "we need to be able to read so that we have the knowledge to learn and to have power."

Zhu is tutoring third-grader Aydon Lee. "The clinic is fun," he said. "I’m getting better at reading really fast."

Paula Garcia is another ELL student turned clinic volunteer. "When I was in the program, it was fun passing the different levels, and now it feels great to volunteer and tell other kids what they are doing wrong so they can get better at it," she said.

Success stories like these are not uncommon. Jennifer Billow’s son Jeremy entered Parley’s Park’s reading center as a first-grader in March of 2003. "He was really behind in reading, which we didn’t realize at first," she said. "I think as time went on, it became apparent that he was falling behind and losing confidence."

Jeremy also joined the fluency clinic in January of his second-grade year. "It was like a booster shot for him," Billow said. "It just made everything click." the end of second grade, Jeremy was reading at grade level. In third grade, he wasn’t in any of Parley’s Park’s reading programs anymore, and by fourth grade he had won a Super Reader award.

Jeremy is now a sixth-grader at Ecker Hill Middle School. "He was supposed to read 1,000 pages for the first quarter, but he read 2,000," Billows said. "I truly believe that it all goes back to the reading center and fluency clinic. If those things weren’t available, I don’t think he’d love reading as much."

Billows volunteered at the fluency clinic for the next two years after Jeremy was in the program. "I just wanted to give back to the program," she said. "It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s very gratifying, especially when you see the smile on the kids’ faces when they get to pass on to another reading level."


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