Wilson kids learn to read - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Wilson kids learn to read

Aunt Bea, teacher, volunteers inspire young readers

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:20 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

You can read this, because someone taught you how to read.

At Wilson K-8, Jocelyn Smerz and many volunteers are taking a proactive approach to being that "someone," teaching kids who are slightly behind in their reading skills.

In Aunt Bea's Reading Room, nestled within the school's library, there are aisles of literature, colorful mats, posters and filing cabinets filled with hundreds of reading exercises, all of it for kids of all grades.

"We really want to make it fun," Smerz said of her reading room. "They love coming here for that."

Currently, Smerz has about 20 volunteers who currently work with nearly 60 children one-on-one. Each volunteer is at the school for one to four hours, using prepared lesson plans – another element provided by Aunt Bea and created with the help of volunteers.

"The more volunteers that we have, the more kids that we can see," Smerz said. "It is so crucial to have that one-on-one tutor time with the kids. If I could work on one-on-one with these kids every day, that would be awesome. But there are not so many hours in the day and there is only one of me … without these community members, I couldn't do this."

Nancy Martin is a 10-year school volunteer and current parent-teacher organization board member who has been helping in the reading room for three years. She works with students in the reading room one day a week for about two to three hours. Seeing a change in students keeps her coming back.

"I was assigned a little guy who was a first-grader who didn't want anything to do with reading. It was almost a behavioral problem," Martin said. "But he was great at the end of the year. He wanted to read, he didn't want to put a book down, and he was excited about reading."

In the past, students who showed signs of reading troubles were usually picked out by their own teacher and identified for extra attention. Now, with the proactive approach Smerz is taking, she and volunteers make their way into each class, test each child and evaluate reading skills. Children who need help go to the reading room. Improvement is tracked, and volunteers take note of what improvements are needed.

The reading room comes with a price tag.

Smerz's salary isn't paid through the district. It is covered by donations from a woman only identified as Aunt Bea – hence the name Aunt Bea's Reading Room. Aunt Bea's donations to the school have funded the entire reading room, from the books to the exercises, and from Smerz's wages to the Smart Board.

"She is just an amazing woman," said Adrian Hannah, the principal of Wilson. "She says 'Wilson is my school and I want to do what I can.' She is pretty flexible with how we operate with stuff. Like if I were to call and could say 'Aunt Bea, can we do this instead, we have these class that are larger sizes, can we do this instead,' she would be fine. We would be able to do it."

Aunt Bea has donated thousands of dollars to the school's PTO. It is Hannah's job, among other things, to make sure Aunt Bea's wishes are met.

"The technology she has brought to this school has just been over and above," Hannah added.

Technology doesn't teach the kids on its own. Along with community members, Smerz also has the help of some older students in the K-8 school.

Eighth-grader Sam Ross chose to be a student aide as his elective.

"I thought it would be fun to work with kids and help them out," he said. It's been fun, Ross said. He likes seeing how different each student is, and how they enjoy working with older students.

To volunteer your time, contact Jocelyn Smerz at jsmerz@amphi.com or at 696-5911.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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