Reading Group draws families in Monticello

Reading Group draws families in Monticello

MONTICELLO – Think about an apple.

Not the fruit, though – the word.

It's pretty difficult. Why would there be two "p's"? Or an "e" for that matter?

Words like that, and "cat" and "come," are getting easier for children like Olivia Moffitt to spell – thanks to a summer program at The Reading Group.

The nonprofit organization, which began in 1972, offers students one-on-one and small-group tutoring, mainly in its office at Urbana's Lincoln Square Village.

In May, it opened an office in Monticello and has already attracted 18 area families, including the Moffitts, to its services, said executive director Kathy Wimer.

"I just wanted her to have a great head-start for first grade," said Olivia's mother, Melissa. "They have that technique for making it more fun than Mom would."

Sally Bower teaches first grade and reading at Lincoln School in Monticello during the school year. This summer she's working part-time at The Reading Group. Many of the staff are current or retired teachers.

In Bower's hourlong class with Olivia, she writes down words she knows by sight and Bower tests her on more words with flash cards. She plays computer word games and reads illustrated books.

Olivia also makes words from magnets shaped like letters and writes words with her finger as she says them, using a pan of dried Cream of Wheat cereal as her medium. Writing the word in wheat helps with fine motor skills. Saying the word aloud helps commit it to memory. Both help students remember that word when they see it again, Bower said.

And it's fun.

"I like playing with the Cream of Wheat and the computers," Olivia said, after nodding enthusiastically when asked if she liked reading.

Bower tries to keep that enthusiasm going. "Our main goal is to support what they can do," she said. "We want to keep it at a level where it's not frustrating."

Though programs have fees ($550 for the summer program, for example) several dozen students receive scholarships to pay tuition.

Among other patrons, the city of Urbana contributed $4,000 this year for scholarships for its residents of any age, Wimer said. Orange Krush, the basketball fan group of the Illini, donated $4,000 for computers and programs.

Students in schools that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress over a few years also have children qualified to receive free services (paid for with school Title I funding). That includes about 200 students at Urbana Middle School and 200 from Dr. Howard Elementary School in Champaign, Wimer said.

"A lot of families are not aware that they're eligible (for free services)," she said. "The only requirement for the parents is transportation."

English as a Second Language students, average and above-average readers use the services. However, many other students are behind in reading because of special needs, like a speech or hearing problem.

Wimer can sympathize. She came to reading a little late because of a hearing problem.

"I remember firsthand the struggle ... of not knowing how to read when the other kids knew how," she said.

In the summer program, students typically meet with their tutors twice a week. Most finished their five-week session this week.

The next session, called August Refresher, starts Monday in Urbana and Monticello. Programs are not restricted to children, Wimer added.

One of their students is a 67-year-old man.

"He wanted to learn to read, he said, before he died," Wimer said. "There are lots of adults who would benefit – you know it's never too late to learn to read."

Reading tips for your child

Want to help your child learn to read (or read better)? Here are some tips from The Reading Group:

– Spend time every evening reading for enjoyment with your child or children. Read to them, have them read to you, or take turns.

– Take children to the library.

– Don't discourage them from reading books in their comfort level or easier.

– Have them point a finger at the word or sentence they are reading.

– Encourage them to spell or sound out words.

– Pick up a book for yourself. Kids like reading more when they see their parents enjoying it.

More tips are available at The Reading Group's Web site, at Go to "Tips for Parents."

For information about the organization, go to the Web site or call 367-0914 for the Urbana office or 762-2714 for the Monticello office.

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