Hamilton Reads (previously America Reads) started anew this semester at two local schools, Westmoreland Elementary and Rome Elementary. The literacy organization is sponsored through the Community Opportunity and Outreach Project (COOP) and serves first, second, third and fourth grade students.
Director of Community Outreach Amy James spent the fall semester working with student director Erica Quach ’16 to find area schools with which the Hamilton program could work. The Hamilton chapter of the national organization America Reads began working with Utica second graders to improve their reading skills six years ago.
In the new program 12 tutors go to both elementary schools once a week. Fourteen students volunteer at the Rome school and 12 at the Westmoreland school, and Quach said the program is currently looking for more tutors. The age gap between first and fourth grade students makes Hamilton Reads different from the entirely second grade-based America Reads program.
“It’s very different in terms of behavior but students work together and some serve as role models for the others,” Quach said.
Quach started tutoring through America Reads as a first-year student, having spent the previous summer volunteering at an orphanage in Africa. “I realized the privilege of receiving an education and I saw the challenges my students faced,” she said. “I joined America Reads because it tackles the same issues.”
Quach plans to pursue a career in education policy based in part on her work with the organization. She became a coordinator for America Reads as a sophomore and is now student director. Assistant Director Julia Coasch ’16 originally got involved with the program to fulfill volunteer hours for a class in the education department.
“I completely fell in love with the program and stuck with it from then on out,” Coasch said.
Coasch and Quach continually work to develop and improve the program.
“This spring, I changed the worksheets available to the tutors in each folder so that we get better feedback about the students' needs and progress, and also provide them with more opportunities for practicing their writing skills,” Coasch said. “I also began offering professional development workshops to the tutors so that they can really grow as teachers.”
Hamilton Reads uses a “three-book system” in which the tutors repeat a book they previously read with the student, read a book that was previewed the week before and then preview a new book for the next week. If there is time after the three books, the students take part in a writing exercises developed by Coasch.
“I put a worksheet in each folder that has writing prompts that reflect on the readings they are doing, and writing prompts that allow the student to be more creative, like what they would do if they found a dinosaur in their backyard,” Coasch explained. “My hope is that the students leave Hamilton Reads as not only stronger readers, but also strong writers.”
After the sessions, tutors complete a report of their student’s reading level and behavior.
“You see such progress at the end of the semester, you see such a big jump in lexile numbers [level of difficulty ranking],” Quach said. That improvement, she said, is one of the most rewarding parts of her work with the program. “The [elementary] students really look forward to Hamilton Reads; they talk about it all the time. The matches between tutors and students are working out and getting to know your student and working with his or her strengths and weaknesses is so great. Sometimes kids are difficult and don’t want to let their tutors in, but they eventually do.”