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Helen Haller to host training for reading tutors
by MATTHEW NASH
Teachers at Helen Haller Elementary are seeing continued results with their long-running reading tutor program.
Andrea Slack, reading tutor coordinator and third-grade teacher, said she sees daily success in her classroom.
“I see it when my students move to a higher reading level, when they get excited to read with their tutor, and when they thank their tutors for taking time out of their day to spend with them,” Slack said.
She is hosting a reading tutor session 3:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10, to bring in more support for students.
Helen Haller Elementary has 45 tutors of varying backgrounds and ages in every single classroom, minus kindergarten and special education rooms.
Some volunteer one hour a week while others volunteer a handful.
“A lot of volunteers tend to enjoy working with the young ones, first and second grade,” Slack said, “but we find a lot of volunteers who like the older children as well because they can have deeper conversations about books.”
In the classroom
Some volunteers like Jo Robb and Donna Greenough have kept their feet in the door for years. Robb has worked with hundreds of children in Jane LaBeaume’s second-grade class for 16 years, three days a week, one-and-a-half to two hours each time.
“My granddaughter was in this class, and now she’s 21,” Robb said.
“For me, when the light goes on, I know I’ve done my job.”
Greenough helps first- and third-graders and has spent much of her volunteer time in Tami Wall’s third-grade class for nine years. She said a friend started tutoring before her, so she did too.
“You develop your own process and style,” Greenough said.
“If you like kids and like to read, this is for you.”
Greg Bexdicek spends one hour each Friday reading with three students. This is his third year helping.
“It takes an hour out of your day and you help them when they need help,” Bexdicek said.
“It’s important to help with out younger generation.”
First-grade teacher Betsy Smith began coordinating the program in 1998 and rewrote the manual. Smith said tutors volunteer because they enjoy children, want to continue making a difference in the community, and they feel teaching kids to read is an absolute.
“I have come to know some of these wonderful people very well over the years and feel like they are our true heroes,” Smith said.
LaBeaume has two or three tutors in her classroom daily.
“They help so many kids read and the kids couldn’t get as far without them,” LaBeaume said.
LaBeaume said the biggest advantage of the tutor program is for children reading and talking with an adult.
“So many children don’t get a chance to do that often,” she said.
Smith, who recently transitioned into teaching first grade, said she has a stronger appreciation for tutors’ time, commitment, and passion for helping children.
“My first-graders love them and are making greater gains in reading due to their patient help,” Smith said.
What it takes
When it comes to tutoring reading, Slack said the most important duty is just showing up each week.
“(Tutors) become quite important to the student and are missed when they do not come to school,” Slack said.
“A reading tutor needs to commit to being consistent because in some classes they will work with the same kid over the whole year.”
Patience is another obvious virtue with early readers.
“It’s easy to forget how we learned to read, but it can be an arduous process for many kids,” Slack said.
Once a tutor is approved, that tutor is paired with one or two students to read with once a week. Smith said if someone is on the cusp of wanting to tutor they should at least try it for a year.
“As you get to know the kids and see their reading improve you will most likely feel so rewarded yourself that you will want to continue,” Smith said.
“We definitely need more tutors as I have seen many of my faithful ones retire. The needs are great and we will always need tutors.”
A grant from the Haller Foundation supports Slack’s after-hours compensation and training supplies for the program. Local businesses like Sequim Costco also devote staff time to help.
Become a reading tutor
First through fifth grades
3:30-4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10
Contact: Andrea Slack at 582-3200 or aslack@ sequim.k12.wa.us
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.