(pictured above: WSSU student Nichelle Caudle with her tutee, Sabriyah Johnson.)
Eight year-old Shailinn Morales has always loved to read.
“Since I was a little girl, I have had a real interest in books,” said Shailinn, a second grader at Easton Elementary. “Like, I really connect to the book.”
Once a week, the aspiring pre-kindergarten teacher gets the chance to bone up on her reading skills and enhance her educational pursuits through the I-RISE (Initiative of Reading Improvement for Students Everywhere) Literacy Academy, a new program led by students and faculty in Winston-Salem State University’s Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child and Family Education and the School of Education and Human Performance.
The program focuses on schools with a high number of students from low income homes. Jamilla Shepperson, a social/clinical research assistant for the Maya Angelou Institute, said research shows that a lack of literacy skills have a negative effect on academic and social achievement, and low achievement is often tied to low socioeconomic status.
“If you can read, you can do anything,” she said. “I just want them to believe that they can achieve anything, achieve all their goals, and also know that we support them in their efforts.”
The free after school program was piloted at Forest Park Elementary in the fall and launched at Easton Elementary last month. Roughly 30 Easton students take part in weekly I–RISE sessions, where they work one-on-one with a designated WSSU student to improve their literacy skills. The program runs through April 23.
“We do learning words – big words,” explained Oziah Dean, a first grader.
Dr. Kim Pemberton, an assistant professor of Elementary Education at WSSU and the program’s visionary, requires students in her Reading Assessment and Remediation class to participate in the project as part of their coursework. I-RISE provides valuable learning experiences for students at WSSU as well as the youngsters at Easton, said Pemberton, who spent over two decades as a classroom teacher. The WSSU students conduct pre- and post- assessments to gauge their young pupils’ academic growth over the course of the program, and interact with the youngsters’ parents.
“These students are one semester away from student teaching,” Pemberton noted. “This gives them a little more push with assessments, because now everything is driven by data.”
Nichelle Caudle, a senior elementary education major, said she was grateful for the opportunity to test her teaching skills out on real students.
“I think it’s a good program to do for the students, to help them out in the schools and it’s a part of our class,” commented Caudle, a Greensboro native and the child of a principal and a school librarian. “…I think it’s good experience for us to have in teaching students literacy.”
Caudle’s tutee, second grader Sabriyah Johnson, said she’s learning a lot.
“We read chapter books,” the eight year-old explained. “I’ve learned to retell what I read.”
Easton Principal Beatriz Veto describes the school’s reading scores as “horrendous.” A veteran educator and former colleague of Pemberton’s, Veto said she jumped at the chance to host I-RISE at Easton.
“I didn’t even let her finish,” she related. “I said, ‘Kim, whatever you can do for us, I am for it.’”
Since taking the helm at the predominantly Hispanic school in late 2012, Veto says she has been working closely with Easton teachers and students to help the students overcome the obstacles they face in their academic pursuits. She believes that the program’s ties to an institution of higher learning lends an air of legitimacy to the work that they are doing at Easton, but what is perhaps even more valuable is the relationships that are developing between her pupils and the college students.
“It’s not about having a lesson,” Veto said. “It’s about that connection, where the child’s reading to you, you’re reading to them. You’re asking questions and the kids, I think they feel proud about it and they feel grateful. These kids truly want to learn.”
Pemberton says Easton students and their families have embraced the program wholeheartedly.
“The elementary students were gung-ho from the beginning,” she declared, noting that the I-RISE academy will be held over spring break because the students and their families requested it. “They are so excited, looking forward to it.”
Pemberton is hoping to eventually expand the program to a freestanding location at The Enterprise Center where students from across the county will be able to come and take part.