Schools reach out to struggling readers Balto. County system uses one-on-one lessons to bring students up to par


In its effort to have all children reading at grade level by the end of second grade, Baltimore County's school system has begun a one-on-one tutoring program at 15 elementary schools this year that gives struggling readers extra attention from paid parent helpers.

The program means that Colgate Elementary School first-grader Katlyn Hall works 30 minutes every day on reading skills ranging from recognizing letters to writing simple sentences.

"The children are making tremendous progress," says Sue Baker, who is tutoring Katlyn for 10 weeks. "Day after day, you can see them starting to read."

The program -- called Reach for Reading -- is a highly scripted set of one-on-one lessons aimed at bringing struggling readers up to par, says Patricia Hoge, a Baltimore County elementary language arts supervisor.

The county received $2.4 million this year for the 29 elementaries that have large numbers of children from low-income families and with low reading test scores, Hoge said. Fourteen of the 29 had a Johns Hopkins University tutoring program in place called Success for All.

"We decided that Reach for Reading was the best way to go for these 15 schools because it requires relatively little training for tutors and is not too expensive," Hoge said.

Reach for Reading is similar to a program called Reading Recovery, Hoge said. But Reach for Reading does not require certified teachers or as much specialized training as Reading Recovery.

Each of the 15 elementaries received money to hire at least four "paid parent helpers" and one instructional assistant to tutor at least seven children each per day, and larger schools were given extra staff. The parent helpers are paid minimum wage -- $5.15 an hour, Hoge said.

At Colgate, the tutoring staff includes four parents and a Dundalk Community College early-elementary education student. Each has created a place to work separating the tutoring from the classroom.

From the beginning of every lesson, students are encouraged with praise and positive reinforcement, often with stickers and other inexpensive gifts.

As first-grader Tony Patucci reads the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice," instructional assistant Rose Szymanski lets him pick another sticker for his record book. "You're really improving," she tells Tony.

Throughout county schools, tutors have reached more than 1,000 children this school year, Hoge says. School officials are evaluating the results, but early anecdotal evidence suggests that the tutoring is having results.

"We're seeing children make real progress," says Colgate reading specialist Beverly Sagel. "Some of the second-graders began the tutoring barely able to recognize some letters, and after 10 weeks. they're approaching grade level."

Teachers acknowledge that when children's reading skills are far behind their peers', it's often difficult to give them enough attention to catch up.

"We would never have that much time for just a couple of children," says first-grade teacher Robin Michaux. The helpers are "doing a fantastic job with the tutoring."

Colgate Principal Theresa Petrungaro says she would like to expand the program next year to all grades in the school, because students who are struggling with reading could use extra attention regardless of their age.

School officials are considering expanding the program for next year, Hoge says. Possibilities include adding schools or adding tutors at schools that have the program, and the county is exploring ways to increase tutors' pay.

"They're doing such important work that they deserve to be paid more," Hoge says. "They're helping teach children to read."

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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