Center Helps Children Overcome Reading Challenges

cartoon pic of boy reading

Are you familiar with the Patrick Beaver Learning Resource Center in Hickory? Angela Lawrence is its executive director. PBLRC is an amazing organization that’s doing everything it can to help Catawba County children overcome reading challenges. Angela described it as “life-changing” for the young people who benefit from PBLRC’s free tutoring, known as the Augustine Literacy Project.

Angela shared some eye-opening percentages:

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SUBMITTED PHOTO Balls Creek Elementary literacy specialist Rebecca Stewart (left) and Alice Rullman from PBLRC, who trains educators how to teach reading using a highly structured approach.

• 5 percent of children are those who, at age 4 or 5, pick up something and start reading without having had formal instruction. “Prodigies,” described Angela.

• For 30 percent of young students, “the natural learners,” Angela called them, the type of reading instruction they receive isn’t important. As long as they get some sort of reading education, they’ll learn to read.

• 60 percent of children need a highly structured reading program that’s phonics based (decoding skills); systematic, whereby new skills are built, one by one, onto previously learned skills; and multisensory, meaning that lessons provide opportunities to learn visually, auditorily, tactilely, and kinesthetically.

• 5 percent likely will never learn to read due to some kind of physical or mental trauma.

Did you catch that third percentage? Does this account for all the news we hear about young people not reading on grade level? More than half of all children will not learn to read – or at least not well enough – unless they receive well-structured literacy instruction. Period. And if they can’t read, they’ll struggle in all classes, and their North Carolina End-of-Grade test scores will be low because the children won’t be able to read the math problems, the directions, the questions!

The solution has multiple layers.

One is the pairing of children who have learning differences (e.g., dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) with trained tutors. Additionally, PBLRC works with English-as-a-second-language students as well as children who live in extreme poverty.

Two is the training of area elementary teachers in an approach to teaching reading that is structured, systematic, and research-based.

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SUBMITTED PHOTO — Shown are teachers from various Catawba County Schools’ elementary schools, who participated in 2017 reading education training sessions provided by the Patrick Beaver Learning Resource Center.

Three is the education and inclusion of parents through special programs, such as Project LIFT (Learning Is Fun Together) during which PBLRC pairs with one elementary school per year for six to seven meetings. Parents bring their children for a meal followed by two sessions led by people who teach them about literacy skills and a third session that invites families to play literacy games.

LIFT “teaches parents how they can help their kids at home and encourages parents’ ongoing involvement,” said Angela. “The more parents are involved, regardless of their income level, the better their children do in school.”

Here are a couple of letters of appreciation from educators familiar with PBLRC’s programs:

From Catawba Elementary School literacy specialist Robin Stewart: “Thank you and the volunteers for all you [did] for our students. It has made a significant difference in their lives. By helping them become more successful at reading, they have developed confidence in other areas as well. The improvements made through our partnership has impacted their entire self-worth.”

From Viewmont Elementary School instructional facilitator Tonya Byrd: “It has been awesome having Project LIFT at Viewmont this year. The students and parents love it, and we’ve had tremendous participation. A couple of weeks ago, we had an awards day and a table was set up in front of the library like we do on Project Lift nights. As the students passed by, I heard several say, ‘Oh, it must be LIFT night’ with lots of excitement in their voices! The program has inspired excitement in learning within our children. I am sad to see it come to an end.”

While all these efforts have proven effective — and Angela’s working constantly to generate funding and recruit tutors, and area elementary educators are thrilled when they see the results — it’s still not enough. Not enough tutors, not enough people to train teachers, not enough facilitators to coach parents. Children who aren’t prodigies and aren’t natural learners need help before they reach third grade. Consider how many children are in Catawba County’s three school systems’ first and second grades. Now mull over the fact that 60 percent of them need highly structured reading instruction. That’s a lot of little minds that need help.

If I haven’t convinced you, consider some more numbers from PBLRC:

• Four out of 10 third-graders read below or well below grade level in Catawba County.

• Less than half of economically disadvantaged students read at grade level.

• Last year’s eighth-grade reading scores revealed that almost half of eighth-grade students (48.87 percent) remain below or well below grade level.

• Only four out of 10 eighth-graders’ reading scores are considered on a path to being “college or career ready.”

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SUBMITTED PHOTO Patrick Beaver Learning Resource Center volunteer tutor Chrisanne Mitchell works with a student through PBLRC’s Augustine Literacy Project.

According to PBLRC literature, with the kind of tutoring it provides, “the child’s average rate of growth in comprehension, accuracy, and fluency doubles from the prior year without tutoring.” And it needs to be accomplished before grade three when, as Angela explained, children should move from “learning to read to reading to learn.”

Currently, PBLRC has 32 tutors and is serving approximately 50 students. Obviously, more tutors are needed, not only because one-on-one instruction leads to quantifiable success, but also “there’s that relationship between the tutor and the student that you really can’t quantify,” said Angela. “It builds the child’s self-confidence, and they know another person cares enough about them to show up at least twice a week.”

So, if you might be interested in volunteering for the Augustine Literacy Project or LIFT, you’re invited to an informational coffee at 10:30 a.m. on July 17 or Aug. 14 at the PBLRC office in the lower level of the Shook and Tarlton building on Highway 127. The address is 926 2nd St. NE, Suite 100, Hickory, NC.

If you’d like to offer financial help to PBLRC, a nonprofit that depends on donations and grants, mail checks to P.O. Box 255, Hickory, NC, 28603 or give online at www.patrickbeaverlrc.org.