When children in the second grade learn to read, their teachers are focusing on how to engage them in the activity. But by third grade, children read to learn. This pivot in expectations puts struggling readers at a severe disadvantage that can shake their self-confidence and dampen their enthusiasm for school.
STAIR, Start The Adventure In Reading, seeks to curb this disadvantage by providing one-on-one after-school tutoring for second-graders who are reading below their average grade level. Originally STAIR operated at just one site with a few students. It has since grown to 10 sites and 72 students! They come in twice a week, read regularly with the same tutor(s), and receive devoted, personalized attention to their interests and progress. I’ve tutored at STAIR for three years, and I’ve seen the relationships develop between students and tutors. They are filled with moving moments and breakthroughs. Here are a few examples:
Story #1: Leah
Each day at STAIR, tutors record which books the student read. During my second year, I tutored an engaging boy who had a lot of potential but sometimes had a hard time focusing. One day I really got his attention, although I had not intended it.
We were reading the book Rags, the true story of a dog in World War I who accompanies an American soldier from the streets of Paris to the battlefield. Both Rags and his soldier are injured, and the soldier must return to the United States to recover. As a dog owner myself, I was overcome at the thought of being separated from my dog in such a situation, and I had to stop reading. My student looked up, probably wondering why I’d stopped reading, and saw tears beginning to cascade down my cheeks.
He put his little hand on my arm and said, “Don’t worry I’ll write in the log that we read Rags,” while allowing me to recover from the sadness of the story. This is the kind of experience that keeps me coming back week after week, year after year.
Story #2: John
Six years ago I was working with a young boy at the Robinwood site. His vocabulary of frequently used words (or “sight words”) had always been strong, and we’d been working all year on improving it further. In the spring he developed the ability to parse long words into recognizable syllables, with noticeable improvement in his fluency. Out of the blue one afternoon he said, “When I came to STAIR I was a seed planted in the ground, Now I’m a flower.” I have no idea where that came from. Certainly it made me and his other tutor just as happy as he was.
Story #3 Barb
One student was very reluctant to read aloud, both when reading alone and when we worked together choral reading style. The year after he graduated from STAIR, he came to visit and asked if he could come in to read to another STAIR student. Our coordinator has always made graduates welcome to do this, so he came in and read a storybook to my current student. This clearly signaled his growing confidence in his reading ability.
Story #4 Debbie
I have had two students who didn’t want to read at all. One flat-out told me he couldn’t read. I decided on a method I’d used with English-as-a-second-language children. I asked the student to tell me a story while I wrote it down. Afterwards, I had him draw pictures of the things that happened in the story. As a final step, I asked him to read the story back to me. This worked well with one of my recalcitrant students, but the other refused to draw anything until I explained that many books have pictures as well as words. The breakthrough came when he realized he was the actual author of a story, and then he was eager to add the pictures.
Story #5 Becca
Where the Wild Things Are is both my grandmother’s and my own favorite book. I made a point of reading it with my student at STAIR. At the beginning of the story, the main character, Max, is given some soup which he stubbornly refuses to eat. He is sent to his room, from where he escapes into a dreamland of monsters and stays for years and years. Eventually Max realizes that he misses his mother and returns from the dreamland. He finds the same soup is in his room and it is still hot.
“How is that possible?” my student wondered. “How is the soup still hot?” This led to a wonderful exchange about the possibilities of using reality and fantasy within a work of fiction. He asks good questions every time we are together, and each day he understands the stories just a little bit better.
The relationships developed at STAIR are special and bolster a new confidence that buoys students throughout their journey in education. STAIR fills a need that teachers and parents often do not have time to fill: reading one-on-one. This dedicated attention is cherished by all.
To learn more about joining STAIR as one-day, two-day, or substitute volunteer tutor click here, or contact Executive Director, Linda Barbour at email@example.com or 410.279.6480. To designate STAIR as your AmazonSmile organization, click here. STAIR’s full name is Start The Adventure In Reading (STAIR) – Annapolis, Inc. and it is a 501(c) (3) corporation.
Rebecca Forte is a perpetual vagabond who is happy to settle down in Severna Park.
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