Struggling readers program concludes another year
Elon University professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr, right, gives a high-five to Laurie Clark. Clark’s son, Zion, received help from a university reading program, going from struggling with a D average to getting his first A in the subject.

Kim Walker / Elon University

Elon University professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr, right, gives a high-five to Laurie Clark. Clark’s son, Zion, received help from a university reading program, going from struggling with a D average to getting his first A in the subject.

By Keren Rivas, Special to the Times-News, The Times-News 12/29/11     
Reprinted with permission.

A couple of years ago, Laurie Clark noticed that her son Zion had slowed in the development of his reading skills. He had always struggled with the written word, but Clark held to the hope that the child would eventually improve on his own.

 Shortly after approaching Zion’s teachers and principal last fall with her observations, the school connected Clark with a struggling readers program hosted by Elon University. Though Clark had never heard about the program, she was willing to give it a try.

 As part of the program, parents, Alamance-Burlington School System students and future teachers in Elon’s School of Education meet at May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington six times per semester. During those sessions, Elon students diagnose reading challenges and work with parents to show them things they can do at home to help their children read during the week. They also monitor the at-home tutoring and visit classroom teachers to ensure there is consistency across the board.

 “I was speechless,” Clark said of seeing her son going from a “D” to an “A” for reading in his report card earlier this month. “It’s like a curse had been broken.”

 For Zion, the accomplishment is no small feat, either.

 “It feels good to get an A,” he said. “I never saw an A in reading before. I’m trying to get an A+ now.”

 As a reward for his efforts, Zion and 49 other children who participated in the program were treated to a $60 shopping spree at Barnes & Noble in Alamance Crossing. Students from the School of Education and volunteers were also on hand to help the children pick out books at no cost to families.

 Elon Associate Professor of Education Jean Rattigan-Rohr started the “It Takes a Village” program in 2008 as part of her teaching struggling readers class. The program caught the attention of the Switzerland-based Oak Foundation, which awarded Rattigan-Rohr a $200,000 grant last year to replicate the reading program through partnerships with universities in North Carolina and Oregon.

 Locally, word about the program’s success has spread so much that she had to turn down dozens of prospective participants this semester.

 “It was heartbreaking to do that, but we really didn’t have thespace,”Rattigan-Rohrsaid.

 With the increase in numbers, past students and other volunteers have signed up as tutors. Laurie Lambert, wife of Elon University President Leo M. Lambert, is one of those volunteers, working this fall with Zion and his mother.

 “It’s been a most pleasant experience,” Lambert said as she looked over at the books Zion had picked. “We both have progressed in the program. We’ve discovered that we can all benefit from it.”

 That’s one of the key aspects, said Madelyn Pastrana, a third-grade teacher in Greensboro and former student of Rattigan-Rohr’s who continues working with the program.

 “It’s a community event,” she said. “It takes the parents, it takes the tutor and it takes the child to make it all work. Everyone benefits from it.”

 She said that as a teacher, the program has helped her to integrate parents in the teaching process, an important tool to reinforce learning. It’s also a source of innovative ideas.

 Several children who participated in this year’s program are Hispanics whose parents speak limited or no English. Rattigan-Rohr said that while many of her students spoke Spanish, they also had translators at hand to help in certain situations.

 Ary Londoño and wife, Alba Maya, were thankful for that. Their two daughters, Michelle, 8, and Liseth, 13, have been in the program since the beginning of the school year.

 “They have both progressed so much,” Londoño said in Spanish, adding that the program has been particularly beneficial for Liseth, who struggled with learning English after coming to the United States from Colombia.

 Liseth admits that at first she didn’t like reading because she didn’t know the spelling of many of the words. Now she enjoys it and plans to continue coming to the program in the future.

 “We’re very thankful to Dr. Rattigan-Rohr and the teachers,” said Maya. “It’s an excellent program. They have dedicated a lot of time to help us.”

 Rattigan-Rohr describes her program as a “clinic without borders” that succeeds in most part thanks to the“amazing goodwill” of her students and the volunteers who keep coming year after year. She said parents have asked for more meeting times and more subjects in addition to reading, adding that she is looking at ways to give the program more permanency. “It’s grown so much, we need to think about what the next step will be,” she said.

Keren Rivas is assistant director of University Relations for Academic Communications at Elon University.