By Asumi Ohgushi, Corps Member, Disney Team at Normandie Ave. Elementary School

Listening to a kid try to read a story that’s about three levels higher than their reading level can be a torturous exercise for both reader and listener. Mispronounced words spoken in a monotone leave little opportunity for comprehension, much less interest. English teachers refer to this as a lack in “fluency” and it can be addressed in a few different ways, ranging from phonics to high-frequency vocabulary practice. Students who cannot read quickly and fluently by the sixth grade level face major academic struggles, not just in English, but in all other subjects as well.

Mrs. Gant-Leau, assistant principal at Normandie Avenue Elementary School, asked the Disney Team to help her address this problem by implementing a program called “Read Naturally” to supplement our regular English curriculum tutoring. The program gives short but interesting stories exactly at the reading level of each student. With topics such as “horned lizards,” “fire-walkers,” and “hot air balloons,” the students practice to improve their words-per-minute and chart their progress over time. Since the model works well for our 1-on-1 and small group interventions, we were more than happy to help put her plan in motion. Because the students are asked to practice reading on their own, we are giving them a chance to take initiative in improving their reading, and their incremental progress is clearly graphed in front of them for them to see. Three days a week those students gather around my table and eagerly show me how much they have improved through reading practice, slowly building a level of confidence many of them have never before shown in academia. “Read Naturally helps me pass different reading levels, and answer the questions better. It’s fun to read new stories,” one student recently told me. One by one, I time them and correct their mistakes, so I can get a good sense of their progress, and where their weaker areas might be.

The Disney Team reports back to Mrs. Leau with progress notes, and she supplies us with new stories. If we are facing any stumbling blocks with a student, she gives us feedback on tactics to use to address their difficulty.

City Year has been at Normandie for six years now, and every year the partnership has grown stronger and more integrated into the fabric of the school. Rather than operating as a completely separated entity running a tutoring and after-school program, we have worked hard to find ways that we can align ourselves with the administration’s efforts and collaborate on events and initiatives like Read Naturally. It is exciting to be a part of these efforts and be included in meetings where we talk about addressing the difficulties our students face in learning. By working together, we can truly make a lasting impact on our students. It’s a great feeling.

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