Pitching in to Get Kids Reading by 3rd Grade

Apr 24, 2015

Credit Photo: Adia White

Three-fifths of Santa Cruz County 3rd graders fail to reach basic levels of literacy. The pilot Santa Cruz  Reading Corps project has seen promising results placing literacy tutors in preschool classrooms to get students an early boost. So far, these interventions look promising. Vista Pickett came out of retirement to participate.

“Letters Letters, Letters have names what is the name of this letter,” Pickett sings as she holds up an illustration of an A.

She’s surrounded by preschoolers at the Freedom Children’s center. Pickett is a petite woman, with short silvery hair, big eyes and brimming with energy.

“And then we’ll chant, A, A, AAA, A is the name of this letter!”

The project is part of AmeriCorps. For a stipend, individuals like Pickett with little or no teaching experience get three weeks of intensive training on literacy education. They hone their new skills for awhile under the supervision of a lead teacher. Then the tutors work their magic in the classroom.

Smiling Tutors Make Good Students

Fortunately, Pickett’s fears turned out to be false: “For new staff to come into the classroom it’s really important to build relationships with the children and that was very easy for Vista.”

Anita Silva, lead teacher at Freedom Children Center, has been working closely with Pickett in the classroom for the past two years.

“Children respond very well to people who care and people who are genuine and people who are encouraging with a smile,” Silva says.

Steady Progress

“Red means they need help. Yellow means they kind of got it but they’re not all the way there, green means they got it.”

Pickett flips eagerly through their progress charts. At the beginning of the year most of the students were in the red, that’s not the case anymore.

“There are some in here that are really exciting, this person we’ve exited”

Exited means that the student has moved from the red zone into the yellow zone. The majority of the students are now in the yellow.

Pickett can take some credit for this improvement. Her responsibility as a literacy tutor is to target the kids in the red zone and work with them individually or in small groups to give them the boost they need.

Reading By 3rd Grade

“Prior to dropping out of college to get married I always thought I’d be a teacher, when I grew up I always thought I’d be a teacher and I thought this is about probably as close as I’m going to get.”

Pickett may very well be helping improve the standard to which her students perform for the rest of their lives, says Christine Sieburg with First Five Santa Cruz.

“Children in third grade are no longer learning to read but reading to learn,” Sieburg says. “So children that do not have that skill set in third grade will move further and further behind their peers as they move on.”

Santa Cruz Reading Corps’ primary goal is to get students reading by the third grade.

“My experience as a Reading Corp literacy tutor has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I get teary when I think about it.” Says Pickett

Pickett hopes that she will teach again next year, but she reminds me that she is a senior citizen. Having accomplished her lifelong dream, she just might be ready to retire.

This story was funded by Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.