Shanice is a high school senior who has worked with Team Read for five years as an after school and summer reading coach and a site assistant. As a reading coach at Team Read, Shanice developed ambitious career aspirations and the necessary life skills to achieve these goals. Her story demonstrates the clear impact that serving as a reading coach can have for teens in Seattle.
For as long as Shanice can remember, she has wanted to be a teacher. When she was an eighth grader at Beacon Hill Elementary School she learned about Team Read and immediately volunteered to tutor second and third grade students in reading. Shanice loved reading. When she was a little girl, her mother took her every week to their local library and the two of them would sit on a little blue bench in the library and read together. She knew that there were lots of students who struggled with reading and she wanted to help.
Shanice looked forward to Team Read each week. On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, rain or shine, she would walk over a mile from Mercer Middle School to Beacon Hill Elementary School.
She explains her first experience as a reading coach: “The first day of Team Read, I met my student Omaru. Omaru had a really hard time sitting still. He didn’t want to work with a tutor. He didn’t want to read, and he knocked aside books at his reading level because he called them ‘kiddie books.’ Omaru wanted to read the same books as his classmates. When he got frustrated with me, he pushed back his chair, stood up, and started to wander around the room. He refused to look at me. “
Omaru’s family spoke Somali at home. He was in the third grade, but he was reading at a first grade level. Shanice remembers Omaru being embarrassed by his reading ability and unwilling to admit that he needed help. “The more frustrated Omaru got, the more frustrated I became. I was scared that I couldn’t help Omaru, and I was afraid I couldn’t be the perfect teacher I wanted to be.” After a few sessions and some advice from her site coordinators, Shanice decided to take a different approach. When Omaru started to wander, she put the book down and followed him. She stopped telling him what to do and tried to figure out what he really liked instead. “The more we walked, the more we talked, the more I learned.”
Shanice found out that most books were really boring for Omaru. Instead, he liked to read about sharks and alligators and snakes. The yuckier and stranger an animal was, the more he liked it. So Shanice listened and started to hunt for books on reptiles. “I found great books in the Team Read collection and I also found books at the school library. If Omaru didn’t want to read a book, I offered to read it to him first. If he still didn’t want to read, I would read a page, and then let him read the same page. In Team Read, we call that echo reading. Omaru and I worked together all semester, and little by little, he read more. He read harder books. He learned more challenging vocabulary. Our conversations in English got longer too. We talked about every yucky, gross, disgusting, slimy reptile we could find. We had fun together. By the end of the year, Omaru had moved up two reading levels.”
Shanice knew Omaru was proud of his work because he sat with her longer, listened to her read, and tried to read like she did. “I helped him realize how intelligent he really is, and I proved that I could be the teacher I always wanted to be. That’s why I’ve come back to Team Read every year for the past five years, and that’s why I’m going to college next year to be a teacher.”
As a site assistant this year, Shanice is able to pass along the valuable knowledge that she learned from five years as a reading coach to others who are now in the position. Shanice explains that her experience as a reading coach and site assistant has provided her with valuable leadership and learning opportunities. “I have learned to overcome challenges and communicate with reading coaches and students who come from different backgrounds than me.” Shanice helps students to develop a routine and provides additional help to reading coaches who are having a hard time connecting with their students.
Shanice was a reading coach in Team Read’s summer reading program at Rainier Beach Library as well as serving as a teaching assistant in the Summer Staircase program for the past two years. She explains it as an “amazing and life changing opportunity for both the reading coach and students.” Shanice works closely with the classroom teacher to grade papers, lead activities, teach the class, and support students. Shanice is confident that this experience will help her to be successful as a teacher.
Shanice says that her experience with Team Read has helped her to define her goals for the future. She wants to go to college to get a degree in communications and teaching so that she can work with elementary school students. Her experience working with Team Read has helped her gain confidence and experience working with this age group and she wants to be a second or third grade teacher.
Photo: Diego and Shanice
The word is climbs. Kaimana stares at it. He frowns. He won’t speak. He fidgets in his chair. It makes no sense: Why is there a “b” at the end of this word?
Kaimana’s tutor, a Garfield High School student named Sakura, now in her second year with Team Read, encourages him to sound out the word.
“I know you can do it,” says Sakura.
Kaimana contorts in his chair. It looks like he wants to slither under the table. When Sakura asks him to sit upright, he slumps so low, his nose disappears beneath the tabletop.
Frustration with reading is nothing new for Kaimana. At home, the primary language is Chuuk, a language of the Austronesian people. The language has no written alphabet. As recent immigrants, Kaimana’s family struggles to help him with English.
Silent b’s are a mystery. When reading, he often confuses the letters “b” and “d.” When he says a word wrong, he pushes the book away and starts to squirm.
Kaimana’s teacher referred him to Team Read for help. He’s currently reading at a kindergarten level, two years below his peers. He wriggles around a lot in the classroom. He needs more time practicing with books, his teacher says.
If Kaimana still reads this far below grade level by the end of the year, research has shown that he’s at serious risk of never catching up again.
Sakura taps a pencil on the table. She bites her lip. She doesn’t want to give Kaimana the word; she wants him to figure it out on his own.
“The b is silent,” she explains. “It doesn’t make a sound.”
Kaimana looks again. He won’t speak.
“I know you can get this,” says Sakura. Her tone is bright and enthusiastic. Kaimana inches closer, still sagging.
“Look at these words.” Sakura writes a list in the margin of their Power Reader Journal, the workbook used by Team Read tutors and their students. Limb, crumb, thumb.
“Recognize any of these?” Sakura asks.
Kaimana points at thumb. He says it clearly.
“Great!” says Sakura. “See? The b is silent. It’s the same in this word.” She points back at the word climbs in their book.
Kaimana frowns again. “Climms.”
“Hmm,” says Sakura. “Does ‘climms’ make sense here?”
Kaimana goes back and rereads the sentence, then shakes his head.
“Remember what we talked about? About long I’s and short I’s?”
“So what are the two sounds I makes?”
Kaimana’s face suddenly lights up. “Climbs!”
Sakura smiles too. “Right. Let’s read this again, starting at the top of the page.”
Kaimana sits upright. He puts his fingers on the edge of the book. Pretty soon, he’s back to reading.
My name is Kiarra and I was a Team Read tutor for three years. I want to tell you about my student Myla. When I met Myla she was in 2nd grade. While her classmates were making steady progress in reading, her teacher said Myla was stuck.
My job: get Myla unstuck.
Myla forgot basic facts from the books she read. She cried when she couldn’t figure out vocabulary words, and she often picked detective books off the shelf that were too hard for her to read.
Myla’s mom is a single mom who works all day. Finding time to read with Myla is hard. In school, Myla’s teacher put her in a special reading group, but she still wasn’t making much progress.
I met Myla last October. We worked together in the library at her school. At first, I was nervous to be her reading tutor. I was just a high school student! I thought that I was too young to help. I didn’t feel like I had any authority. I also didn’t have any experience as a teacher.
That first day, Myla sat down next to me and rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to be in Team Read. She didn’t want a tutor. Before we even started, she looked bored. I got nervous. I was worried that the adults in the room would see that I wasn’t a good tutor. I was afraid they would kick me out of Team Read if I didn’t do a good job.
When I asked Myla to pick a book, she groaned. When I tried to work on vocabulary with her, she started to play hide and seek behind the bookshelves. I’m a calm person. I’m usually good with little kids, but I began to wonder if I could help this girl. I hate to say it, but Myla was getting on my nerves.
The only thing Myla seemed to like about me was my iPod. “I looooove Justin Bieber,” Myla told me.
I’m going to confess something now: I’m also a BIG Justin Bieber fan. I told Myla she could listen to a Justin Bieber song on my iPod if we did a little reading first. It worked. Myla read a book at her reading level, and then I let her listen to a song on my earphones. That’s when I pulled out my secret weapon …
“There’s this band called One Direction,” I told Myla. “If we read some more, I’ll let you listen to a really good One Direction song.”
Myla and I realized we had very similar music tastes, and we started to talk about music every time we got together. I talked to Myla like she was my friend, and she started to share her secrets with me. She told me about school. She told me about boys she liked. She even confessed when she got in trouble for not doing a chore at home. Now when Myla came to Team Read, she ran right over and gave me a hug.
Myla and I worked together twice a week from October to May. We laughed a lot. We listened to music. We played a lot of games. We read a lot of books she liked and we talked about those books in a casual way, the same way we talked about Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez. Myla’s reading got better. We started to read chapter books. She started to try harder vocabulary levels. Myla stopped crying during our sessions and I kept getting more hugs.
Myla changed in Team Read, and so did I. I’d created so many tutoring games for Myla and my previous Team Read students, I had a game for every situation. When I ask questions about a book, I do it in a way that isn’t boring or hard or scary. I make reading fun. I used to dream about being a teacher, now I know I can do it.
Jack, you’ve given so much time to Team Read as a volunteer and tutor. Can we clone you?
Only if I get a clone for myself — someone to go to school for me so I can stay home and sleep late.
When you tutor, you look like you’re having a lot of fun.
Sometimes school is hard, or your student is a challenge, but Team Read always brightens my day.
You ask your student a lot of questions while he reads. You sound like a game show host.
I want to make sure my student remembers what he reads. He also needs to understand the books. When I ask questions, it keeps his attention. It’s like we’re having a conversation as we read.
Your first year with Team Read was a little tough.
My first student liked to run around the library. He flipped over a couple chairs. It was hard to get him to read.
You’ve worked with lots of high-energy students. How do you keep them focused?
I find books they actually want to read, and they channel their own energy.
Great! What books do your students love?
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Magic Tree House series, anything by Dr. Seuss, fairy tales. Joke books always work too.
You just took the SAT. What’s harder: tutoring or taking the test?
The SAT. In Team Read, you work with your student. You both improve. The SAT was only made to punish you.
Ha ha. Will you mention Team Read in your college applications?
Yes! I’ll write about how Team Read has improved my learning and communication skills. I’ve learned public speaking through Team Read. I’ve learned how to work in groups as a Team Read Ambassador. Tutoring has also taught me patience.
Where do you want to go to school?
UC Berkeley or the University of Washington. I want to study computer engineering.
Will you still use your great tutoring skills?
Yes, I’ll find a way. I promise.