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One for the Books

Cal State Fullerton's Reading Clinic Benefits Teachers-in-Training and Capistrano Unified Youngsters

December 08, 1999|REBECCA HARRIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For the Boyle family, the reading clinic at Viejo Elementary School in Mission Viejo provided a beacon of hope that linked two generations.

Twice-weekly doses of one-on-one tutoring in reading helped 7-year-old Rachel Boyle turn her struggles into surmountable challenges.

Before enrolling in the clinic's program, Rachel didn't like reading and wasn't very adept at it, mother Jeanette Boyle said.

"She realized everyone around her was reading better than she was," Boyle said. "She was very cognizant of her insufficiencies."

But now Rachel's improvements are apparent.

"Words that she used to get stuck on . . . I can see her little mind clicking now," Boyle said. "She's picking out books on her own. She looks forward to coming" to the clinic.

The same program provided Boyle with a bridge to a second career: She was chosen as one of the tutors for the program.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 10, 1999 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Reading clinic--A story Wednesday on a reading clinic at Viejo Elementary School misidentified Cal State Fullerton professor Ashley Bishop as a woman.

The Boyles are just two of the about two dozen children and future teachers to benefit this semester from the reading clinic, a partnership between Cal State Fullerton's graduate reading program for future teachers and the Capistrano Unified School District.

Pairing needy students with teachers-in-training, the clinic helps students in kindergarten through ninth grade who otherwise might have to repeat a grade because they haven't mastered reading.

The clinic is "geared for the student whose problem is severe enough that he or she needs very intensive help by a person with a great deal of training in reading," said Ashley Bishop, a Cal State Fullerton professor of reading education. "There is simply not enough time in the day for the classroom teacher to meet these needs."

While any child may apply to the reading clinic, only those with the most severe problems will be accepted, said Barbara Dygert, consulting professor of education at the university and director of the clinic.

The clinic opened in September in response to both a shortage of training opportunities for teachers and the statewide elimination of social promotion earlier this year.

"When the state mandates for reading changed, it meant a tremendous shift in education was necessary," Dygert said. "Our push has been the state standards."

'It's Going Back to Basics'

Meanwhile, Cal State Fullerton administrators began looking for more hands-on training opportunities to accommodate the 260 graduate students in education, Bishop said.

Capistrano Unified fit the bill.

"Capistrano Unified has one of the strongest after-school reading programs anywhere," Bishop said. "There's a strong districtwide commitment to making sure every student receives reading support."

So 12 Cal State Fullerton grad students pursuing master's degrees in education or reading specialist certificates agreed to meet with students for three months and help them develop an individualized reading improvement plan.

Ricky Lopez, 10, is one success story.

Ricky was having trouble processing words as a second-language learner, said tutor Ellen Clinton, who teaches English as a second language at Corinta Middle School in Santa Ana Unified.

"It's going back to basics," Clinton said. "Working one-on-one really makes a difference. It just makes him focus better."

And his success could be replicated among many students, she said.

"Ricky has a chance," Clinton said. "If we had a program like this in Santa Ana Unified . . . I can only imagine what it would be like. [Now] it takes them years to learn this stuff."

But memorizing sentence structure and such staples as subject-verb agreement is only half the battle. Getting kids to make another attempt at a skill that has eluded them is harder.

"The No. 1 thing in working with kids with reading problems is getting them to change their attitudes about reading, making them feel very successful," Dygert said.

To that end, tutors reward diligence with items such as certificates, candy, a bookmark or a book.

It worked for Nader Fannyan, 11, who needed a self-esteem boost, said mother Fereshteh Momayez.

"Before, I always had to beg him to read, and I always heard negative statements about it," she said.

But a semester later, Nader's grade average has jumped from a D- to a B, and he seeks reading challenges, she said.

"Now he asks me all the time to buy him books," Momayez said. "I feel like my child has been truly blessed."

Program Helps Tutors Hone Their Expertise

Low-performing readers may always have to struggle to keep comprehension up, Bishop said.

"You're always going to have, no matter how sophisticated and well trained your teachers are, students who cannot keep up with other students," she said. "They need additional support.

"There's no big secret. We don't have one thing that's going to meet the needs of all students."

But it's those challenges that help the university students hone their expertise as they prepare for the ultimate test: commanding a diverse classroom of their own.

Such training provides the university students with a broad base of knowledge, a key factor in the program's success, Bishop said.

"The most important thing is that we want our graduates to be masters of their science: a person who can help any student at any time. So they can look at a student and know what skills the student really does need to have and how to assess those skills."

Heading into its second semester, the reading clinic may grow or decrease in size, depending on the number of Cal State Fullerton teaching students who enter the program next semester. But despite any size fluctuations, the program's continued existence signifies success, Bishop said.

"We're sending tremendously prepared graduates out to meet the needs of many students," she said. "Now that we're getting people out there in very good numbers, I think we're helping."

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