A little boy’s name is called. It’s the moment he has been dreading. He feels the silence of the classroom while all heads turn, eyes boring into the back of his head, waiting for him to read the words on the chalkboard. He feels the heat of embarrassment rise to his face. His palms become sweaty, and he wants nothing more than to flee the classroom and escape the fact that he can’t read as well as his classmates. His eyes frantically search out the letters, he licks his lips, and he begins to falter on the words. He hears the soft sounds of laughter beginning, and once again the overwhelming sense of frustration and humiliation overcomes him.
This experience is a familiar one for so many students who struggle with reading on a daily basis. The effects on children are not only academic, but also social, mental and emotional. For parents who are fighting to help their children in any way possible, the difficulty increases when the last school bell of the year has rung and the backpacks have been tucked away.
For 42 years, families have been turning to the Summer Reading Program offered by The Citadel Zucker Family School of Education for one-on-one tutoring for their children. The program’s tutors are classroom teachers who are working on their Master of Education degree in Literacy Education.
Assistant Professor of Literacy Education Robin Jocius, Ph.D., who leads the literacy program, is proud of what the program does, not only for the children who desperately need reading intervention, but for graduate students too. “Our students tell us time and time again that the Summer Reading Program is their favorite part of their graduate work at The Citadel,” she said, “and I believe it’s among the most valuable experiences in our program.”
Hands-on intervention work is a critical part of the learning experience. “Although all our students have worked as classroom teachers,” said Jocius, “classroom teaching rarely allows for opportunities to work with a student one-on-one, to really get to understand a student’s strengths, needs and ways to support that student’s growth. In the Summer Reading Program, our students get the chance to develop personal relationships with students and try out new diagnostic and intervention techniques that they don’t get the chance to try in the classroom.”
Illiteracy continues to be a pervasive problem within the United States, with 32 million American adults unable to read. South Carolina has the 13th-highest rate of functional illiteracy within the United States. These are terrifying numbers, especially for parents who have a child struggling to read. The average child loses two months of reading skills over summer vacation, and for a child who is already reading below grade level, this gap will only be intensified.
The Summer Reading Program has won numerous awards and has received national recognition from the International Reading Association. This unique and tuition-free program is designed for children who are reading two or more years below grade level and is offered for two weeks during the summer. The program is crucial to helping children who are experiencing reading difficulties and offers individual tutoring, which is based on diagnostic-prescriptive case studies. Most importantly, the program supports the Zucker School’s principle that the learner is the most important individual in the teaching-learning process. All too often, because of large class sizes, teachers are unable to provide the individual support and time that these children need.
“The Citadel’s Summer Reading Program was an amazing opportunity to further my knowledge and gain assistance and resources to become a better educator,” said Alyson Formichella, a former literacy graduate student who is a special education teacher at Hanahan High School.
The Summer Reading Program is so popular that there were 58 students on the waiting list before the registration period was closed. Parents see the benefits the program provides to their children. “Please know that this program has a huge impact,” one parent wrote. “My son has grown so much, and the opportunity for him to work with different role models is invaluable.”
The program is significant, not only to children and their parents, but also to the graduate students involved. Formichella felt the program was instrumental in shaping her as a teacher. “The Summer Reading Program helped me to gain confidence as a teacher. Our amazing professor, Dr. Jocius, provided us with detailed instruction, resources and guidance to make sure that once our program was over, we could take these skills back to the classroom with us. I can already see my current students making progress each and every day.”
The Citadel is setting the bar high when it comes to producing elite educators in the field while also giving back to the community. Formichella summed it up best: “The overall experience this past summer was one I will never forget. On the last day of the program, my student admitted that she now felt comfortable and confident to read in front of her peers. Not only was this something she said, but it was obvious in her smile and expression as she read.”
For a child who was once struggling, self-conscious and fearful of reading, a new sense of confidence is a priceless gift that will continue to give year after year.