Friday, May 1, 2009

Proof of Progress

As part of the AmeriCorps network, our motto is “We’re getting things done for America.” And on a day to day basis, I don’t think this could be truer. Four days a week, we help students improve their reading skills and confidence. Obviously, it would be rather time consuming and difficult to try to quantify our accomplishments on a day-to-day basis. For most of us, it’s the little improvements we see in the students that prove we are, indeed, “getting things done.” It may be something as small as a student begging for an extra five minutes with their coach, reading a basic book with no stumbles or recognizing a new sight word. But every so often, we get big results that truly prove that we’re making a difference; an accomplishment so great that we can’t help but celebrate it with our other Corps members who understand just how big that particular feat is. My big reward came in February and it’s a story I still enjoy sharing.

When I enrolled Lauren back in October, she was essentially a non-reader. Lauren was in first grade and able to read only the most basic of words—a, and, the—and had little confidence. She clearly didn’t enjoy reading and was nervous about having to do it in front of complete strangers. Her teacher knew she was well behind the rest of the class and wanted her in the school’s reading recovery program which offered 45 minutes of intensive literacy tutoring with a specialist four times a week. Unfortunately, the program was full first semester, so Lauren had to wait until February to begin. Until then, her teacher wanted her in Generations so that she was still getting a form of individualized attention twice a week.

I assigned Lauren to one of our most dynamic, consistent and dedicated Reading Coaches, Ms. Tena, in the hopes that she would encourage not only Lauren’s reading skills but also her confidence. Lauren was initially very shy during her sessions and struggled through them. Gradually, she began to trust Tena and before long, I was regularly hearing giggles from their work station and would occasionally have to tell them to keep the volume down. Every session, I would be impressed by some new word she could decipher or how fluently she was reading rather lengthy sentences. Clearly, she was making considerable gains in her skills and appreciation of reading.

I didn’t realize how big those gains were until her teacher approached me in February to talk about Lauren. She informed me that the week prior she and the literacy specialist had started the enrollment process to get Lauren into the reading recovery program. In order to enroll her, she had to be tested to see at which level she would be starting. Her teacher was pleased to report that Lauren had actually tested out of the program. Her skills were now too high for her to qualify for extra help.

Sharing that fantastic news with Tena has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my year of service. Tena was absolutely beaming and was so proud of Lauren’s accomplishment. Certainly, significant feedback like that doesn’t come along every day, so we really have to savor those moments and remember that all of the little signs of improvement are pieces of a much bigger picture of the students developing skills and confidence that will serve them well for life. We’re getting things done.

Kim Bohling is an Americorps State Program Coordinator. You can email her at

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