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Older Students Helping Younger Ones Read

January 14, 2010

Literary Skills Improve Through Reading Together


Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

by Peggy McEwan | Staff Writer

As school buses outside filled with children ready to go home, a group of second- and fifth-grade students stayed behind to work on reading skills.

The 15 fifth-graders picked up large, periwinkle blue reading kits from the reading lab at Oakland Terrace Elementary School in Silver Spring and headed to the media center Jan. 5, where they paired up with an equal number of second-graders as part of the Reading Together program.

“I decided to do this to help,” said Jake Ford, 10, a fifth-grader from Silver Spring. “It feels good because I’m helping kids. I like doing it.”

After Jake and second-grader, Francis Montano, 7, of Silver Spring, finished reading “Floss” by Kim Lewis they discussed it. Then Francis had to complete a Venn diagram in her workbook comparing the two dogs in the book.

“It helps you pick out ideas,” Francis said of the Venn diagram.

Fifth- and second-grade duos filled all the tables in the media center and some sat on the reading rug, all reading and discussing the same book.

“It’s a scripted program and I make the fifth-graders go through the lessons before they teach it,” said Kathryn Williams, the school’s reading specialist and program coordinator.

The fifth-grade tutors give up at least one lunch and recess period per week to train for the week’s Reading Together session. They work with their second-graders for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday, building a working relationship with each other over the course of the five-month program. In spite of the time commitment, Williams said she always has plenty of fifth-grade tutors.

“[The program] has quite a reputation within the school,” she said. “It’s a big commitment for them but the fifth-graders are responsible and it’s good for them. They gain in confidence.”

The Reading Together program, which is sponsored and funded by The Ruth Rales/Comcast Kids Reading Network, is offered in 70 county schools, helping more than 800 second-graders improve their reading.

Not all the schools use the cross-grade tutoring concept like that at Oakland Terrace. Some use parent volunteers, others have programs that involve middle, high school and college students as tutors. Montgomery County Public Schools has used the program for the last 10 years, said Denise Stultz, supervisor of the Department of Family and Community Partnerships for Montgomery County Public Schools.

“The purpose is to improve the students’ reading fluency and comprehension,” Williams said. “The kids love it. It’s all excellent, excellent literature.”

Veronica Garcia, 11, of Wheaton, partners each week with Angelica Ordano, 7, of Silver Spring.

Veronica said when she was a second-grader she needed help with reading and was a mentee in the program. Now, as a fifth-grader, she is happy to return to help as a tutor.

“I had a tutor, she was nice,” Veronica said. “She taught me lots of things. Now the things she taught me, I’m teaching [Angelica].”

Veronica said the things she most remembers learning during her early reading sessions was not to read so fast that she made mistakes.

“She told me to slow down. It helped me,” Veronica said.

The extra two hours of reading each week helps all the students improve their reading skills, Williams said. It was Williams who implemented the cross-grade tutoring eight years ago, after hearing how well it worked from another reading teacher.

“Every single student I’ve ever had has improved, second-graders and fifth-graders,” Williams said. “That’s based on Montgomery County assessments.”

Oakland Terrace’s principal is equally enthusiastic about Reading Together.

“We love the program and can show data on how effective it is. It helps not just the second-graders, but the fifth-graders as well in terms of their reading skills,” Principal Cheryl Pulliam said.

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