Meet the Pied Piper of elementary kids
"Hey Chris," "Chris come here," "Hey, you know what Chris?" "Chris I have something to show you." These are some of the phrases you hear as he walks into North Park Elementary school, in North Logan, on a Monday morning. Hislop works as a tutor for the America Reads program through Utah State.
He grabs some readers from the office along with some novelty pencils for prizes, and by 9:30 he is in a corner of a class room reading with a blue eyed 7-year-old named Cody. The rest of the class is singing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and going through vowel sounds. There are bins near the wall filled with crayons, puzzles and books, and everything is miniature; desks chairs and water fountains. Even the teacher is sitting on a small chair perfect for the size of a first grader.
As Cody finishes the book, Hislop tells him what a good job he did and how much he is improving. He writes the comments down in a journal that he turns into the teacher at the end of the day and sends Cody to get another kid.
"The kids I work with have a hard time reading, so my most important tools are incentives and a lot of praise," said Hislop.
Some kids he works with have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), are dyslexic, or are just behind in reading. Hislop said that it sometimes takes a lot of patience, but it is one of the most rewarding things he has done.
"It's awesome when you look back from the beginning of the year and see how far these kids have come," Hislop said.
At 10 he moves to another classroom. This teacher prefers him to tutor the kids in a room separate from the classroom. His first student is a second grader named Kel, who happens to have dyslexia, but you wouldn't know it.
She reads through the book almost perfectly only having help on a few "chunking words." Then they discuss how well she is doing and how improved she is.
"I know, when I took the eye test I got every one wrong, but the special glasses helped me do better," said Kel as she points to Hislop's orange sunglasses that he used to let her wear hanging on his bag. "Before I couldn't even read anything."
"I bet you can read a book every minute now," Hislop said to Kel. She smiles shyly and leaves to go get the next student. Hislop said that this is one the best jobs he has ever had.
According to the America Reads website, www.ed.gov/inits/americareads, the America Reads Challenge is a grassroots national campaign that challenges every American to help all our children learn to read, including English language learners and students with disabilities. Assistant Director of Academic Resources Carol Rosenthal, who is also the director of America Reads, said that America reads is a federally funded program that is re-authorized by congress every four years. The initiative was to use work-study to place tutors in elementary schools for children first through third grade, and is now at over 1,100 universities nation wide.
Rosenthal said that in a national testing, 40% of third grade children were below grade level in reading.
"If you can't read by the time you are out of the third grade there will definitely be problems in future education," said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal has set the program up in a way that there is substantial levels of supervision. She has lead teachers in the schools that are over program assistants. The program assistants are usually veteran tutors, and they supervise the tutors.
Rosenthal requires tutors to take a one credit MHR leadership class in their first semester of tutoring. They also receive training and have meetings to discuss techniques and find out how everyone is doing. She said that it helps to get all the tutors together because they can find out what works for each other and give and receive tips to help them improve as tutors individually. Being the director of one the best America Reads programs statewide, Rosenthal has background in training and development and has presented and help implement programs on region and state levels. Along with this she is in charge of drop-in math tutoring, is the department web person, teaches tutor training and workshops, and faculty training for study skills.
"It's a lot of work and you have to have a genuine commitment to the program," said Rosenthal. "But it is amazing to see the difference."
To find tutors the Academic Resource Center goes through financial aid. Assistant Director of Financial Aid Todd Milovich, who helped start America Reads at USU, said that after a student qualifies for financial aid he or she can submit and application for tutoring at Academic Resources. From there applicants are screened and interviewed.
Rosenthal said that she screens tutors carefully. Applicants must have a 2.75 g.p.a. and be able to work 12-15 hours a week during the hours that the school needs them. She then holds a lengthy interview getting information on the applicants background, references, and reactions to certain scenarios. She said that they not only get a lot of education majors but they have tutors majoring in English, business and even geology. They also have many tutors who have returned from Spanish speaking missions who are fluent. Because of the high percentage of tutored students being ESL kids, knowing two languages helps.
Rosenthal said that it is one of the most rewarding student jobs there is and most all of the tutors will say that it is a positive experience.
Hislop agrees. As he sits on the floor, Chase, the second grader in the nook of his arm, finishes the book about Sis the snake and is rewarded with being able to ask Hislop's magic eight ball some questions.
"Will you play with me on recess?" Chase asks Hislop as he is leaving to go back to his class.
"Yeah buddy, I will be there," Hislop answers. Hislop said that playing with them also makes tutoring go smoother. He said that through playing and making friends with the kids, it builds a trust relationship where they associate playing, and reading both with him and it makes them want to read with him.
"This [his job] is my therapy," said Hislop. "One day I wore a Superman shirt to work. On the play ground all the kids started calling me Superman, and that is actually how I feel when I am around these kids."