Reading and Leading: New program at Thimmig emphasizes reading, leadership

By Kevin Denke
Posted 1/19/11

    HENDERSON — Stop by the Thimmig Elementary School library at 7:30 a.m. on a weekday and you’ll be treated to an unusual, but exciting, sight.


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Reading and Leading: New program at Thimmig emphasizes reading, leadership


    HENDERSON — Stop by the Thimmig Elementary School library at 7:30 a.m. on a weekday and you’ll be treated to an unusual, but exciting, sight.
    Though the school day at Thimmig doesn’t begin until 8:30 a.m., the library is packed with students. Kids in one corner are learning Russian, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin and Italian. ESL students, and even some of their parents, are in another room practicing their English. And sprawled across the room on bean bags, behind desks and propped up against bookshelves are Thimmig third- and fifth-graders working together on reading.'

    “Overall, at least a fifth of the building has extended their day with extra programming,” said Thimmig Principal Justin McMillan. “All instruction is at their level and it is all free for them.”
    Thimmig implemented the innovative reading program, Reading Together, in September. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m., 20 fifth-grade ‘tutors’ meet with the 20,third-grade ‘tutees’ to work with them on their reading comprehension skills. In addition, fifth-graders also come in early Mondays and Wednesdays each week to prepare their lesson plans and to work through leadership training exercises.
    “The tutors know exactly what to say and do,” McMillan said.
    McMillan, who leads the program each morning, is amazed at the successful results he’s seen from the program in just four short months.
    “Their reading comprehension has gone through the roof,” he said. “In just this time, they’ve already made a year’s growth goal.”
    McMillan learned about the program at a conference in Breckenridge last summer and was instantly intrigued. He’s so excited about the success of the program at his school, he’s hoping other 27J schools will come on board next year.
    “We’re the ones piloting the program this year,” he said. “We’re trying to spread the word. I think eventually this would be really good to do district-wide. It’s too good of a program for it not to spread.”
    Through the Reading Together program, the fifth- and third-grade students are paired up at the beginning of the year and read their way together through 30 books by the time school is out in May.
    McMillan takes out a program box and starts flipping through the books. “There’s a little bit of everything in here,” he said. “There’s fiction and non-fiction. Here’s Judy Blume, and here’s ‘Too Many Tamales.’ Here’s one on reptiles. There’s a wide range of genres.”
    Fifth-grader Mariah Schaffner said she typically works with her tutee, Kevin Torres, on two books each week. Torres said one of his favorite books thus far is “Chicken Sunday.”
    “It’s really fun,” said third-grader Tristan Gomez. Tristan works with fifth-grade tutors Destiny Morehouse and Brooke Poggi. Mariah, Brooke and Tristan say they now are all considering teaching as a future career as a result of the program.
    “They were initially working on fluency and now they’re quickly digging deeper,” said Thimmig Assistant Principal Sarah James, who assists McMillan with the program.“        “They’re thinking about it at a deeper level and making connections between the book, themselves and the world.”
    And though increased reading comprehension is the obvious benefit of the program, there are several additional benefits to both the tutors and the tutees, James said. Many of the students chosen to participate in the program are students in the middle—those with average grades.
    “These are typical kids given the opportunity to be leaders,” James said. “It helps promote their confidence. These kids are now the leaders in our school. They wear their program shirts and are pretty proud.”
    The fifth-graders learn lessons in responsibility and how to be positive role models to their tutees, James said.
    “The tutees depend on their tutors to be here,” she said. “They need to be here and be prepared for the lesson. They understand what it’s like to be a team. They are partners. They form good bonds and positive peer relations.”
    And one more added benefit for both McMillan and James? They get the opportunity to teach.
    “I’m getting to know the kids extremely well,” James said. “I’m now their teacher for two days a week.”
    McMillan and James agree that the program, which costs $5,000, is important, even in this time of declining budgets.
    “The results have been astounding,” James said. “To be able to look at their fall and winter scores and to see how much they’ve increased, we see that it’s really making an impact. It’s a reaffirmation that it really is working.”


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