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Recruiting little readers

Leigh Ann Koenig knows first-graders enjoy spending time with the “big kids.”

The Greywolf Elementary reading specialist realized there were many 6- and 7-year-olds at the school who were struggling with their reading skills — and the federally funded Title I program couldn’t hold them all.

The Title I program at Greywolf, which provides extra tutoring for students, has room for about 60 students, according to Koenig, and she is required to take the children who are the most needy.

“We can only take so many kids and that’s when we have this overflow problem,” she said.

Koenig decided to take matters into her own hands and asked the fifth-graders who had overcome their reading problems and graduated from the Title I program to help the younger children who need reading help.

Each morning, about an hour before the first bell rings, about 30 first-graders bounce into the school library and read to the fifth-graders. Koenig chooses books for their individual reading levels.

“I wanted to have my fifth-grade Title I reading graduates to help because they know what it is like to be struggling readers,” Koenig explained. “They know the kids need positive enforcement.”

Before the program began in early March, Koenig said the older children received training on the proper ways to coach and use reading strategies. They also learned to help the children master reading by decoding words, having them retell the story in their own words and by simple repetition.

Ten-year-old Victoria Cummins said she enjoys coming in a little early and reading with the younger children.

“It’s really fun to make them learn to read better,” Cummins explained. “You feel like a role model.”

Her protégé, Ashley Poage, 7, said she enjoys when the older students help her, too.

“I get to do fun stuff,” she said. “(Cummins) is a good teacher.”

Koenig knows that peer-to-peer help can be a more effective way to learn and hopes this program will reach those students that Title I does not have room for. Since the children are sometimes confused about the schedule, Koenig often stands by the door when the buses drop off the children and encourages the first-graders to participate. Sometimes when she is short of tutors she recruits fifth-graders who are wandering around, as well. The older children happily agree and spend an hour reading with the youngsters.

“It’s nice because it’s student-to-student,” Koenig said, looking at the pairs of readers. “It’s fun for them. We like to disguise our learning.”

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