When it comes to literacy in children, the doctor knows best—Dr. Suess, that is.

America Reads is a federally funded work-study program started by the Clinton Administration in an effort to improve literacy rates in kids, said Jess Almlie, assistant director of student leadership. It is designed to work with children who are at or below reading levels, are not receiving daily reading time at home, have English as their second language or are simply in need of a positive, consistent mentor.

At Concordia, the mission of the program is to foster the love of learning in order to encourage the growth of children’s literacy in the Fargo-Moorhead community. However, ask anyone involved, and they will tell you it is so much more than that.

“These kids are so grateful and really appreciate you being there,” said Danielle Poster, student coordinator. “You’ll help the kids, yet you learn a lot from them.”

Poster said that her favorite books to read to her students are “The Big Hungry Caterpillar” and any book by Dr. Seuss.

Each semester, Concordia sends about 30-40 tutors to six different elementary schools throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area, focusing on kindergarten through third graders. Minnesota State University-Moorhead and North Dakota State University also have America Reads programs that focus on other schools and grades throughout the area.

Marty Fankhanel, a senior German education major and tutor at Eastwood Elementary in West Fargo this year, said that this is his first time working with English Language Learner students. Many of the students he works with are from Iraq, Somalia and other countries across the world.

“It’s very eye opening,” he said. “I enjoy the fact that they’re so excited to learn about American culture.”

Fankhanel said that working with ELL students is different than working with other students in the program, because they are still figuring out how to just pronounce the English language. He said that he has to keep reassuring them that it’s O.K. to say things out loud and make mistakes.

Fankhanel described his role with the kids as not so much of a tutor but a role model. One of the students he works with has opened up and told him stories about his home life. Fanhanel said that sometimes all these students need is someone who’s willing to listen to what they have to say.

“It’s very meaningful to them, and it’s something I take value in,” he said.

Mary Lenzmeier, head teacher of ELL classrooms at Eastwood Elementary, said that the students really look up to the tutors, and that this program makes a positive difference in their lives. When the Concordia tutors go on break, Lenzmeier said that she’s always touched by how much her students miss them.
She also sees how attached the tutors get to the students, and said that some are teary at the end of the school year.

Lenzmeier said that this program is essential, because many of the ELL students do not have parents who have the English skills to read with them or help them with homework.

“Reading aloud is a crucial part of learning, and listening to a fluent reader is crucial to learning to read,” she said.

The America Reads program at Concordia is open to students of any major, as long as they have a desire to work with kids. However, Almlie strongly emphasized that although they’d like to accept everybody, only students who receive federal work-study funding will be able to tutor. Training sessions are required for all tutors.

Amber Sperling, a senior business management major, is a lead tutor at Dilworth Elementary. Lead tutors are in charge of managing the group of tutors at their school, as well as other organizational duties. Sperling said that although she’s not going into education, she still feels as though this will help prepare her for her future job as a business manager because of her experiences as a lead tutor.

“Not that I’ll be working with kids—I probably won’t be—but I’ll still be making a difference in the community,” she said.

For students who want to apply, applications are available online at www.cord.edu/americareads. Applications for second semester are due Nov. 16, and those hired will begin in mid-January.

Kate Campbell

Kate Campbell, class of '13, is the copy editor of The Concordian and is majoring in English education. She is from Sauk Rapids, Minn. At Concordia, Kate is involved in choir and band and works at the Writing Center. After graduation, Kate would like to teach English in a middle or high school.

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