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Want to Read Better? Let’s Go to Tape

Videos Coach Parents on Reading to Children

Bella Greenlee can tell you a thing or two about ants.

“I know that they carry their food; I see that a lot,” said the Stoney Creek Elementary first-grader. “I know that they live together, and that they care for their babies together. And some fun facts I know, like the queen lays all the eggs. And that ant nests are underground.”

Bella knows so much about the crawly insects she is both clearly fascinated by, and sometimes refers to as “gross,” because she’s seen ants in action in her yard at home. But it’s also because she’s read about them, in a book titled, unsurprisingly, “Ants.” That’s one book she is able to read, in part, because she and her mom are watching YouTube videos that help her hone her reading skills.

Kent ISD early childhood coach Jennifer Merkel
Kent ISD early childhood coach Jennifer Merkel

The four, 1- to 3-minute “Coach’s Quick Tips” that have aired since the series launched in January were created by and (so far) star Jennifer Merkel, an early literacy coach who works with Stoney Creek students one to two days a week.

The series was conceived by Merkel and three other Kent ISD early literacy coaches after Comstock Park Superintendent Ethan Ebenstein approached her about putting together instructional videos to help parents work on reading with their children.

Merkel’s son Jackson, a first-grader, also appears, as well as her daughter, Emma.

“I think that’s what people like about them, that it’s just me, taping them in my kitchen,” Merkel said. “I didn’t want them to be glossy. In one, my son is flopping around and yawning as I work with him, and that’s reality.”

Each video focuses on a specific area of literacy such as comprehension, decoding — or sounding out the words — and fluency.

So far, the videos are in English only, but Merkel hopes to make them available in Spanish as well. About 30 percent of the district’s students are Spanish-speaking, Principal Jason Rykse said.


Week 1 videoParent Quick Tip: Comprehension- Activating Prior Knowledge

Week 2 videoParent Quick Tip: Comprehension- Predicting

Week 3 videoParent Quick Tip: Comprehension- Questioning

Week 4 videoParent Quick Tip Comprehension- Summarizing

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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