A Day in the Life of a Reading Club Mentor

By Josh Caballero

Most of us have picked up a book to read to or with someone else at some point in our life. We have read to our children, younger siblings, nieces and nephews. We have grabbed the newspaper or our phone and read a section to our spouse, colleague or friend. We can remember grabbing a book and reading along in school as a teacher read to us. These simple moments seem exactly that—simple. Yet we often forget this when we are asked to consider volunteering to read to children at a school. We think it takes a certain type of person with some sort of specialty in reading and other skills that we don’t have. We think, “I don’t have a teaching background or know how to work with kids. I wouldn’t know where to begin to help children improve their reading.”

If I’m honest, I’m not sure that I often know where to begin when helping a kid to read, but I can tell you what it looks like for me and the volunteers Waco CDC works with at various campuses:

Every week, one day a week, I take my lunch break to drive to West Avenue Elementary School. I arrive and say hi to the clerk in the front office and get signed in. Then I go to the counselor’s office to select books for my group to read. Once I have the books selected, I go to the cafeteria to wait on my students to grab their lunch. When they see me, they smile and wave and move to the front of the line. After they have their lunch trays we go to our reading area. We sit down and as they eat their lunch, they talk about things that are happening that week, what they’re learning in school, and what they think the book I’ve picked for us will be about based on the cover. Once we’ve done this we begin to read while they finish eating. Usually, we take turns reading. If they struggle at certain points I help them to slow down, sound out different words, and teach them the definition of words they haven’t read before. Sometimes I read to them and have them follow along. Other times they do all the reading. We’ll work on recognizing words on flash cards or make up our own story with the pictures in the book. When our time is up, we go back to the cafeteria to throw away their lunch trash and they join their classmates to go back to class.

Right now, there are almost 20 mentors reading at West Avenue Elementary School, more than 70 at Brook Avenue Elementary School, and nearly 10 at JH Hines Elementary School. The reality is that it does take a very specific type of person with a particular skill set to be a reading club volunteer. It takes a caring adult who is willing to be committed to give up a small portion of their time each week to get to know a kid while they sit and simply read together. If this sounds like you and you’re interested in being a reading club volunteer, please contact Josh Caballero at josh@wacocdc.org

If you would like more information about mentoring opportunities in Waco, don’t hesitate to reach out to Jillian Jones with the Prosper Waco team. You can contact her by sending an email to jillian@prosperwaco.org, or completing this form on the Prosper Waco website.

Josh Caballero is a community organizer in North Waco for Waco Community Development and works closely with local schools, churches, businesses, and residents in the Brook Oaks and Sanger Heights neighborhoods. Originally from the panhandle of Texas, Josh has been a Wacoan for 12 years and enjoys living in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his wife Jennifer and daughter Millee Grace.

Good News about Texas Schools and Disability Services

By Melody Terrell

Are you worried about children in your family with learning challenges?  Have you been frustrated over the lack of services in the schools?  It’s time to forget those past experiences.  Today is the day to head back up to the schoolhouse for a word with the teacher, counselor, or principal. Our schools want to do the right thing and now is a great time to ask again. Texas is in the news (again) for problems related to identifying and serving children with disabilities. This sounds like bad news, but there is good news that goes with it.

We can’t change the past, but as a veteran teacher and instructional specialist, I know the schools are full of good people who want to help your child. No one goes into education to do an ‘okay’ job.  We all start starry-eyed and eager. Education professionals are mostly doing the best they can with what they’ve got.  Frustration with suggested “caps”, lack of funding, and inconsistent direction has stalled the quality of services for students.  Problems with identification and services can change based on the attention this issue is getting in Texas right now.

Conditions that qualify for special education include autism, blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, and orthopedic impairment.  But there’s more.  Some children do not qualify based on those categories but have other conditions which affect a life activity.  ADHD and Dyslexia are high frequency disabilities that certainly affect life activities such as reading, learning, and/or caring for self.  These children may qualify for other protections under the law.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that the needs of students with disabilities be adequately met.  Section 504 of this important document requires public school districts to provide a ‘Free Appropriate Public Education’ (FAPE) including identification, appropriate needed services in regular or special education, and related aids to help with learning.

I am most familiar with dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association estimates that 1 in 5 people are born with this brain-based learning difference.  Dyslexia, a print-based learning difference,  is seriously under-identified in Texas. Students with dyslexia need classroom accommodations and multi-sensory structured language lessons. Small group tutoring is not the same remediation. This translates to money spent on training and a strong core of professionals to provide this service.  Done well, this 2-3 year service can make a lifetime of difference to a non-reader. Simple accommodations such as photographing assignments on the board with a smart phone are easy. Pen devices that scan and read lines of text cost more, but offer independence and dignity for the individual.  Other conditions have similar services and learning aids which can help if  supported by The Texas Education Agency and school administrators.

How we treat students with disabilities is in the news.  The governor and the Texas Education Agency are on it.  Traditional public schools and public charter schools will be taking a close look at improving. Private schools are not held to the same requirements, but many in the Waco area are faith-based. Perhaps there will be conversations about ministry to families who feel beaten down by learning differences.

The most important adult in this mix is the parent or guardian.  If you have been asking for help, keep asking. Send a letter to the principal then to the director of special education if you are not getting help. Always try to work with the school first and remember that you are on the same team.  It can be frustrating, but do not stop asking questions and seeking help. Your child’s future depends on it.  School attendance alone will not help a child with a learning disability succeed. The right intervention and classroom support can be incredibly effective.

For more information:

Melody Terrell is a retired public educator and a part-time private dyslexia therapist.   She is certified in special education and gifted education.  She is the parent of grown children with learning differences who now advocate for themselves.