By Beth Ann Downey
A partnership between The Arc of Blair County and Mount Aloysius College has turned into a learning opportunity for students of all ages.
Mirror photos by Gary M.?Baranec
Amber Wilt (center) and Allison Burley, both students at Mount?Aloysius College, tutor Joseph DeRubeis, 9, at The Arc?of Blair County in Altoona.?
Six education majors from the college have been taking part in a new initiative to target elementary school students experiencing trouble with reading, and provide them with interactive one-on-one assistance.
The college students become tutors, and get a leg up on the competition with this specialized experience in student teaching. In return, the 15 elementary school students from the Altoona Area School District, the Penn Cambria School District and from parochial schools get the attention they need to succeed in all of their school subjects.
"We thought it was a win-win," said Maria Brandt, executive director of The Arc of Blair County, about the decision to involve the Mount Aloysius students in the program. "They understand what it is to do a lesson plan and work with children, and it's good experience because they're getting ready to student teach.
"The students at the Mount are so responsible. That's what's made the program successful."
Students in the pilot program meet two times a week and work for about a half an hour. The Lexia reading program used for these tutoring sessions builds upon an individual lesson plan to provide interactive activities for the specific areas that the students are struggling with. The college students are there to observe and answer questions, and try to make sure that the lessons are complementing what the students are doing in school.
But the one-on-one attention from a teacher and the activities on the computer that make learning fun are what keep the kids coming back for more, Brandt said.
"They want to come back," she said. "The mothers have said to us that ... half the battle for them is getting them there."
Allison Burley, a senior education major from Mount Aloysius, said the fact there are fewer distractions than there would be in the classroom really helps. She added that the program targets specific problems that the students need to work on.
"What they're doing on the computer is what they need to be working on," Burley, 22, said. "It's what they already know and it's not too difficult. It's right where they need to be."
Amber Wilt, also a senior education major helping with the tutoring, said there is a lot of repetition with the program, and several activities to reinforce one concept that they learn. And as a tutor, she is also getting a lot out of participating, Wilt, 30, added.
"It's giving me the opportunity to work one-on-one, because you don't always get that," she said. "We learn about struggling readers or kids with learning impairments. But actually being able to work one-on-one with them is a true learning experience."
The tutors update parents about their child's progress every week, Brandt said, unlike how they usually only hear from teachers during conferences.
Gina DeRubeis, whose son, Joseph, has been taking part in the program said they noticed a difference right away.
"It's helped him. He's had a great first marking period," DeRubeis said. "I think this program definitely helped."
DeRubeis said after the pilot program is over, they hope to offer this service to kids as old as junior high school.
"We feel it's a very good service to the community," she said. "It helps the children, it helps the educators and it helps the young adults getting ready to go into the teaching field."
For more information on this program, contact The Arc of Blair County at 946-1011.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.