Kids get words’ worth in literacy program

       All of the children were basically serious, but a sense of humor came through here and there. For instance, when Ivory Walker's student arrived, he impishly grinned, “I'm going to be the tutor today.”

Using the Children's Literacy Center's Peak Reader book, Xavier, a first-grader, works on words with tutor Eileen Pekarek during a recent session inside the Old Colorado City Library.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But in the end, all of the kids spent an hour in the Old Colorado City Library's downstairs community room in basically the same way - reading through dozens of assigned words with their respective one-on-one tutors from the non-profit Pikes Peak Literacy Center.
       “They go over the list,” explained program director Pamela Polke. “When they miss 10, the tutors have them practice those words.”
       The session, part of a two-hour-a-week, six-week course continuing into August, uses the Peak Reader curriculum the center has developed over the past 18 years to help children in grades 1 through 6 who have fallen below their class level in reading. The effort includes testing to determine children's individual reading skills and shortfalls. “For example, if a child has trouble with short vowel sounds, we hone in on those,” Polke said.
       Similar six-week sessions take place throughout the year, with the next starting in September. The program started using the Old Colorado City Library on Mondays and Thursdays last April.
       “It's been going really well,” library manager Jocelyne Sansing said. “Only two more kids with tutors, and our space will be full.”
       “Another good thing,” she added, is that “with the District 11 changes [in Westside schools this year], there are sure to be kids falling through the cracks. This is a really good way to catch some of those kids.”
       The Westside-based Literacy Center requires help from area groups and individuals. A major supporter is the Garden of the Gods Rotary. Carla Vauthrin, its president, said the service club is “very proud to get this [program at the library] open. I was in education for 21 years, and this program is so carefully done. It makes a tremendous difference for young people who need a little bit of help.”
       The children getting tutored are identified chiefly through their schools. Teachers refer “students who need help to progress,” Polke said. Parents also must agree to the optional program. There is no charge to them, but for parents who still aren't sure, Polke thinks the optional program's 90 percent success rate ought to be considered. Using Peak Reader, she said she's seen students improve up to three grade levels in at least 12 weeks.
       The ages of the summer tutors at a recent Old Colorado City session ranged from high schoolers to retirees, plus a CPA and inkeeper. Because the curriculum is “very guided,” tutors can be as young as 14 years old, Polke pointed out. All tutors receive training, regardless of age, she added.

Children's Literacy Center tutor Vikie Aiken works one-on-one with Cory, a first-grader, recently at the Old Colorado City Library.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Ivory Walker, who attends UCCS in addition to her innkeeper work, does not have a lot of free time, but she still enjoys volunteering as a Literacy Center tutor. When she signed up, “I wasn't working,” she said. “I needed something to get going doing work. But I enjoy being with kids and I love to read.”
       According to the agency's website, the Children's Literacy Center began as a Colorado Springs Junior League project in 1991. “It has since evolved into a state and national effort that receives support from a broad base of individual donors, businesses, corporations, schools, and foundations,” the website states.
       The Colorado Springs office has been located the last three years at 2928 Straus Lane, Suite 100 (off Fillmore Street).
       For more information, call 471-8672 or or e-mail pamela@peakreader.org. The website is peakreader.org.

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