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One hot afternoon in July, a group of students were still working away studiously in the classrooms of Robert Moton Elementary School. Though they were young — second to fourth grade — they were plugging away at writing their memoirs.

This was just one of the activities at a summer reading clinic held at the school.

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The clinic has been a partnership for more than 40 years between Carroll County Public Schools and McDaniel College’s Graduate Program for Reading Specialists. Though the location has changed, the goal has remained the same: giving graduate students a practicum experience while helping prevent summer slide or even improving the reading skills of the elementary-schoolers.

The four-week program is for rising second- through fifth-graders. This year, the theme was “Under the Sea,” and the young readers had a wide selection of books about the mysteries of the sea. Aquatic decorations cheered up the classroom decor.

“We try to make it extremely motivating and fun for students so they don’t even realize they’re learning so much,” said Mel Rhoads, adjunct professor and facilitator of the clinic.

During the school year, Robert Moton checks up on students’ reading weekly, so it’s easy to see which students might benefit from support in the summer and are willing to earn, Rhoads said. Robert Moton also has a high percentage of students who participate in the Free and Reduced Meals program, and a hot lunch and breakfast are part of the clinic.

For the graduate students, the clinic is a practicum that comes near to the end of their time in the McDaniel program. It’s part of what pushes them from being great specialists to being great leaders in their schools, Rhoads said. She’s excited to see her graduate students’ grow quickly after getting many chances to reflect and hear feedback.

“It’s really amazing to see how they know and understand those students. And due to that reflective process and that deeper understanding of where each student is as a reader, they are able to really see, ‘What can I do in a refined manner to tweak my instruction to excel progress?’ ” she said.

Michelle Eirhart, a masters student at McDaniel College, works with Robert Moton Elementary students Ivy Komar, and Caroline Desper, right, during a reading clinic at the Westminster school Tuesday, July 9, 2019.
Michelle Eirhart, a masters student at McDaniel College, works with Robert Moton Elementary students Ivy Komar, and Caroline Desper, right, during a reading clinic at the Westminster school Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

There is a reading specialist in every elementary school in CCPS, and many of them are graduates of the McDaniel program, said Stephanie Dale, elementary reading/ELA specialist. She herself is one of them.

CCPS Superintendent Steve Lockard visited the clinic one afternoon in the third week. As a former elementary school principal, he said he would be drawn to hiring employees with experience like the summer clinic on their resume.

“Even if you’re not the literacy specialist, you can have an impact on the school’s culture, on a school’s professional capacity. That’s huge,” he said.

All of the graduate students this year come from a classroom setting, though a few are from Carroll County and a few are from Montgomery County.

Sarah Watcher, a student in the program and a third-year teacher at Elmer Wolfe Elementary, said the summer clinic is a chance to work with students of all different reading levels at once. Incoming second-graders are mixed in with incoming third- and fourth-graders.

To adapt her curriculum, she has to meet students where they are as readers, rather than focusing on their grade level, she said.

Watcher eventually hopes to become a building-wide reading specialist, but would like to continue building her skills as a classroom teacher for the time being.

Rhoads said the graduate students learn from each other, not just their mentors. “That’s why I believe you see such progress with students; they’re able to ... look at each other’s strengths and then grow from one another."

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The goal is that they will graduate not only as resources for their students, but a resource and a literacy leader among teachers in their school.

Mary Overly, a masters student at McDaniel College, works with Robert Moton Elementary students C.J. Hamlet, left, and Joey Hawk during a reading clinic at the Westminster school Tuesday, July 9, 2019.
Mary Overly, a masters student at McDaniel College, works with Robert Moton Elementary students C.J. Hamlet, left, and Joey Hawk during a reading clinic at the Westminster school Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)
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