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Reading Corps instructors give elementary students a boost

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 9:59 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 10:40 a.m. CDT
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Reading Corps Instructor Tara Rechtfertig works with a student in her office at Aurora Heights last week. Rechtfertig is one of two Reading Corps instructors in Newton. The district is still looking to hire two additional instructors to fill open positions at other elementary schools.

Students at two local elementary schools are getting some extra help with their reading thanks to a partnership between the Iowa Reading Corps, United Way and the Newton School district. The program, which was launched in 2013, was introduced at Emerson Hough Elementary last year, and this year it’s been expanded to all four of NCSD’s elementary schools.

Iowa Reading Corps volunteers are already in place at Emerson Hough and Aurora Heights, and district officials are still looking to hire volunteers at the two remaining elementary schools. The program, which is designed to make sure that all students in K-3 are reading at grade level, trains volunteers to work in the schools as individualized reading coaches. Tara Rechtfertig, the reading coach at Aurora Heights, is a parent and longtime volunteer in the district. After she saw an ad in the newspaper about the position, she applied because it seemed like a good fit.

“I can drop my kids off at school and come straight here, that was one of the big benefits of the position,” Rechtfertig said.

Aurora Heights principal Jim Gilbert said the program has been “a dream come true” for the school as they look to provide additional educational opportunities for students while working within their budget constraints. Reading Corps volunteers receive a small stipend and some educational assistance benefits, but those are covered by the program, rather than the school. Gilbert said he’s already seen the benefits of the program, even though it’s less than a month old.

“When you break it down to how sounds are made, for students to learn that, we’re creating literate human beings,” Gilbert said. “That’s our job.”

In Newton, Iowa Reading Corps tutors have made a commitment to serve 900 hours during their terms, which started in early September and run through May 2018. These Newton AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance of $6,315. AmeriCorps members who successfully complete their year of service will receive an education award of $2,907.50, which can be used to pay back federal student loans, the cost of tuition or other educational purposes.

“There’s been growth with each and every session, Tara’s expressed optimism and excitement at the growth she’s seen,” Gilbert said.

Rechtfertig meets with each of her students several times a week, for 20 minutes at a time. The program places AmeriCorps members, trained as elementary literacy tutors, at sites across Iowa to implement prescribed literacy interventions for students who are just below proficiency in reading. Each day, AmeriCorps members meet individually with students to focus on building students’ skills in phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. Students were chosen based on testing conducted last spring, and at Aurora Heights, Rechtfertig has 16 students that she works with.

“It’s great when you can watch them grow so much, these are the kids that are going to succeed,” Rechtfertig said.

With so much success in the program, the district is still looking to hire two additional reading corps volunteers to fill positions at Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Gilbert said he’s hopeful that candidates will step forward to fill those positions. Teachers at Aurora Heights have been enthusiastic about Rechtfertig, and Gilbert said everyone would like to see the program continue to expand. For Rechtfertig, the job has been more rewarding than she realized it would be.

“You have to be really dedicated, and you have to want to be here, I love watching how excited they are when they get it,” Rechtfertig said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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