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Welcome Help for Younger Readers

Third-grader Gage Stray has changed his mind about reading. He has learned to like it — especially if he gets to read about rally cars.

“You know, the old-fashioned kind that people a long time ago drove down dirt roads,” he said, “like in the 19’s.”

It turns out, reading anything about cars and trucks — especially those like the ones his father restores — is fun for him. But more importantly, he really likes to read.

That change of heart is due in part to his one-on-one reading time with Sarah York, who is employed by AmeriCorps, the national service organization. In particular she works in a targeted reading tutoring program known as Michigan Reading Corps, which is administered by Hope Network.

Second-grader Alex Rivera gets a chance to read with Sarah York
Second-grader Alex Rivera gets a chance to read with Sarah York

The Art of Fluency

“The program focuses interventions on second- and third-grade students who need additional support with reading fluency,” said Kathy Arden, a district literacy coach.

Fluency issues are addressed with a technique known as “duet reading.” York and Gabe take turns reading, at first every other word, and then Gabe rereads the selected sentences by himself.

“He has already gone from about 66 words per minute to over 100,” said York. “Fluency also helps with reading comprehension.”

In Kent City, AmeriCorps services about 25 students per year. Students are chosen based on their reading scores on three different assessments, according to Arden. Selected students receive a one-on-one, 20-minute daily fluency session with the AmeriCorps tutor. Once they meet a reading benchmark, they graduate from the program and are monitored, Arden said.

That follow-up monitoring is one of the best parts of the AmeriCorps program, said Kent City Elementary Principal Pamela Thomas.

“We don’t always get to stop and see if what we are doing is working,” Thomas said. “A master coach comes in and checks progress from time to time. This is a crucial part of this program.”

This is the second year Kent City has been working with the Michigan Reading Corps, and officials are already seeing “much success,” according to Arden.

”Children who are exited from the program continue to be successful in the classroom,” she said. “We have monitored student progress into the next year and have found that these children continue to be reading at or above grade level.”

Gage Stray and tutor Sarah York engage in a little “duet reading”
Gage Stray and tutor Sarah York engage in a little “duet reading”

More Adults, More Options

Another plus for partnering with the Michigan Reading Corps is that the district has been able to offer reading intervention for more students than it would otherwise have been able to.

“This is one more opportunity to give our kids access to another reading intervention,” said Thomas. “And it is a very targeted intervention. It has already made a big difference for a lot of kids.”

The program enables third-graders to get additional help they often don’t get, because federally funded district reading services focus on kindergarten through second grade, Arden noted.

Adding AmeriCorps services this year with York has other benefits as well.
“Sarah has done an amazing job for us,” Thomas said. “Not only is she another adult in the building, she really connects with the kids. And she volunteers in the computer room before school so the kids can use computers and technology in the morning.”

When York graduated graduated from Central Michigan University in 2016 with an elementary education degree, she wasn’t sure she was ready to step in front of a classroom, so she opted to join AmeriCorps. “It seemed like a good stepping stone for me to see if I wanted to have a career in teaching,” she said.

This is her second year with the Michigan Reading Corps and her first at Kent City. Part of the draw is for her is the program helps pay off student loans incurred during college. But more importantly she loves what she is doing and the students that she works with.

“I am definitely still classroom-bound,” she said.


Michigan Education Corps

AmeriCorps employee Sarah York works with second-grader Judith Reed
AmeriCorps employee Sarah York works with second-grader Judith Reed

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


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