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Area students strengthen reading skills during summer program

Education major Joelly Scheff helps read with one of her elementary students during Buenva Vista University's Summer Reading Program. During the 10 day program, each student is provided with a book of their choice to take home and encourage reading.
Education major Joelly Scheff helps read with one of her elementary students during Buenva Vista University's Summer Reading Program. During the 10 day program, each student is provided with a book of their choice to take home and encourage reading.

If you’re reading this right now, you know the importance of literacy in our country and embedding those values in our youth.

During the past two weeks, 65 area elementary students have been attending a reading program hosted by Buena Vista University at the DMACC Newton Campus.

The elementary students range from kindergartners to fifth graders with reading levels varying from those who haven’t had instruction at all to those who are above average for their age.

In addition to the educational benefits for the kids, six education majors from BVU will earn their reading endorsements after completing the program. The education majors, Joelly Scheff, Shannon Fiser, Holly Humes, Jeanann Hamm, Lorie Blumeyer and Kassie Shanks, implemented a decorative ocean theme for the classroom setting this year, joking about the amount of work it took to prepare to teach, but they weren’t shy in expressing how the results of their efforts were rewarding.

“You know it’s going to be a good day when you see them running down the hallway to get to the classrooms. We’ve seen that multiple days, and it’s wonderful,” Humes said.

Blumeyer and Shanks shared one of their memorable projects and the positive results it created for the kids.

“In the first week, we did a research project, and so we teamed up an older student with a younger one. They filled in the gaps on their own. We went around to make sure everyone was contributing and taking part,” Blumeyer said.

“They loved it, the older one kind of served as the teacher, and I think the younger one probably paid more attention to the older one than they would have to us,” Shanks said. “It’s been a good experience for us and a good experience for them.”

The program was created by Newton resident Bob Williams, an adjunct professor at BVU and DMACC and a fifth-grade teacher at Finley Elementary in Des Moines. He is also a part-time administrator.

Williams also generously supplied each of the students with one book a day. With 65 students participating in the 10-day program, that adds up to 650 books.

BVU has a requirement of six courses, and with a lecture and lab set-up, the reading program counts as two. In the morning, the education majors work with Williams to learn about effective teaching techniques. In the afternoon, the education majors get the chance to teach the elementary students how to read using the skills learned in class.

The reading program started July 22 and ended on Friday. It provided the students with additional one-on-one time in the summer that they might not get otherwise.

About four years ago, the Newton Community School District had to cut summer school because of funding, Williams said. Without the opportunity for summer school and because classrooms throughout the school year have limited time in the curriculum for reading, Williams believes the program is beneficial to the students.

The teachers-in-training learned a variety of reading techniques depending on the students learning styles, reading level and age. The DMACC campus, where BVU and the reading camp are located, is also equipped with new technology that helps the teachers sustain the elementary students attention.

Although two weeks doesn’t allow for a lot of time to measure the growth, there are many signs of improvement. The students take an assessment at the beginning and end of program.

“I ask all the teachers to choose an assessment to give all of their students so they have an idea of where they’re at and where they can begin. I know it’s a short time, but we try and set a goal to help them get to that next level,” Williams said.

The soon-to-be teachers talked about how some kids surprised them with their knowledge of fiction and non-fiction and how the students were excited to read to the teachers and wanted to answer questions.

“Without the parents, we wouldn’t be able to learn, and they obviously care about their kids and want them to have an extension to make sure they are caught up for the next year,” Scheff said.

Many of the parents take time out of their busy work school to bring their child into the DMACC building for the reading program. Some of them stay and read while their children are in class.

Paula Thompson is a parent of two. This year is the second year her kids have attended the reading program. During the school year, she is a paraprofessional for the school district and encourages her kids to do different activities throughout the entire year.

“They really enjoy it, and it gets them to start thinking about school time. Every day they get a new book, and it’s exciting to see. My son’s not able to read by himself, but my daughter is, so every night they’ll get together and she’ll read to him some of her books and some of his books.”

“It just keeps them motivated. I just want to thank Bob and all of the teachers for doing this because it’s great. My kids love it,” Thompson said.

Staff writer Kate Malott may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at

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