Successful reading program hopes for continued funding

“Let’s go to that page where you were confused,” teacher Kari Wald said, opening the small book and flipping to the middle. “Look
at the picture,” she gently directs her 6-year-old pupil. “What do you think is going on here?”

By LAURA TODE, IR Staff Writer –

The two are in a tiny room in the basement of Bryant Elementary School. The room, once used for storage, is now a learning
refuge for children.
Keanu Flippen-Davis leans forward with his face a few inches above the colorful page. He doesn’t answer Wald’s question but
begins reading the text at the top of the page, his finger tracing under each letter.
Keanu is learning to read. He got his first dose of instruction from his first-grade teacher but, after a while, he became confused and
He isn’t alone. He is one of 16 students at Bryant who are receiving specialized instruction in 30-minute, one-on-one sessions every
day. The program is called Reading Recovery and it has helped students like Keanu to become better readers and overcome their
“The t-tires sk, skee,” Keanu reads. “Sk, sk.”
Wald interrupts him. She knows that he can’t successfully sound out the word without her help. She pulls out another book with the
letter Q on the cover.
Wald is a kindergarten teacher specially trained through the national Reading Recovery organization to help clear the track for
young readers who are encountering hurdles in their race to read. She knows the difficulty Keanu is facing now is nothing
compared to the frustration he’ll feel when he’s older if he doesn’t get her help.
Right now, her focus is the letter Q, and Keanu looks distressed. He pulls his hands into the sleeves of his two-sizes-too-big
sweatshirt and shifts in his seat.
“What sound does this letter make?” Wald asks Keanu, holding up the new book.
He puts his hand to his forehead, his fingers playing with a tuft of blond hair. Keanu is silent, deep in concentration, and Wald isn’t
about to jump in until she thinks he’s had enough time to remember.
Finally, she says “kwah,” enunciating every sound with her mouth wide. “Kwah.”
“You were close, but it doesn’t say kuh, it says kwah.”
A new, determined look covers Keanu’s face and he goes back to the book, starting over again with confidence.
“The tires squealed as the car…” He looks up at Wald, success a wide smile spreading across his face.
Keanu continued reading, finishing the book without a stumble.
Last year, 17 students participated in the program; of those 17, most are reading at or above grade level. This year, program
coordinators hope to bring another 16 youngsters up to grade level; so far, 13 have made it.
Next year, the success of the Reading Recovery program isn’t so certain.
For the past two years, it has been funded through a grant and Bryant’s principal, Russ Van Hook, said he hopes to fund the
program through federal Title One funding that is allocated to schools in poorer neighborhoods.
The training is paid for and the materials are bought. But to maintain the program, Van Hook said funding will be needed to pay
Wald and the school’s other kindergarten teacher, Theresa Middagh, for their half-day work with the first-grade Reading Recovery
Last week, Keanu asked Wald for help writing. It was a small step for him, but to Wald it represented a breakthrough. He asked her
how to write, “I love reading.”

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